RICHMOND, Sept. 13 — Former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner announced today that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican John W. Warner, setting the stage for one of the most competitive races in the country next year, according to sources familiar with his decision.
Warner, 52, a self-described moderate Democrat, made his announcement in an e-mail and video message to supporters Thursday but won’t formally begin his campaign until after the state legislative races in November, according to the sources, who spoke directly with Warner.
“Six years ago, we brought a bipartisan agenda of change to Virginia. It’s time to bring that same approach to Washington and our nation,” Warner said in his message.
Democrats in Virginia and nationally have been courting Warner in the hope that his entry in next year’s race would help them retain their majority in the Senate. If Warner succeeded, Virginia would have two Democratic senators for the first time since 1970.
“Our country is at a crossroads,” Warner said on the video. “We’re dealing with a mismanaged war. Our stature in the world is declining. We have no national competitiveness plan, and no thoughtful approach on energy policy that would actually create jobs, make us more secure in the world and that deals with the threat of climate change.”
Republicans were ready for the announcement. In an e-mail and video message, the National Republican Senatorial Committee described Warner as “once failed Senate candidate, former presidential candidate and still VP hopeful” and accused him of breaking his promise to Virginians that he wouldn’t raise taxes.
“Make no mistake about it, Mark Warner is a politician who can’t be trusted to keep his promises to voters,” NRS communications director Rebecca Fisher said in the e-mail message. “And his prime example is raising Virginians’ taxes by $1.38 billion.”
Republicans say they will fight hard to keep the Virginia seat, and political observers say more than $30 million could be spent on television and other advertisements as both parties battle in the key race. It will be the first Virginia race for U.S. Senate without an incumbent candidate since 1988.
A Warner victory next year would be demoralizing to Virginia Republicans, who were surprised by James Webb’s win in last year’s U.S. Senate race and Timothy M. Kaine’s election as governor in 2005 over well-known GOP candidates.
Warner could face Rep. Thomas M. Davis III or former governor James S. Gilmore III. Both are likely to seek the Republican nomination, but neither is expected to announce plans until after the Nov. 6 state elections.
A Warner-Gilmore matchup would be interesting to watch.