What George Allen ought to say: Thank you, Mark Warner

Before he decided against running for the White House, Warner decided against running against Allen for the U.S. Senate.

Published October 12, 2006 5:17PM (EDT)

We're guessing that John Edwards and Evan Bayh aren't exactly unhappy to get the news today that Mark Warner won't be running for president in 2008. There was probably only so much room in the race for red-state Democrats, and Warner's departure moves both Edwards and Bayh up a notch on the list of Democrats who haven't won the nomination before and aren't Hillary Clinton.

That said, the man who really ought to be sending flowers to Warner today is probably Virginia Sen. George Allen. After "macaca," after the dust-up over his Jewish heritage, after the "N-word" and the noose and the Confederate flag and everything else, Allen is still leading James Webb in the race for the Senate in Virginia. True, he's not leading by the sort of margin you might have expected from a man who had designs on the White House himself. But Allen is still ahead -- by a few points or by a bunch, depending on which poll you believe -- in the midst of a Senate campaign out-flubbed only by Katherine Harris' cold-day-in-Tampa run down in Florida.

Would things have been different if Warner were in the race? It's hard to see how they wouldn't have been. For all that Webb brings to the table -- he served as secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan and earned a chest full of medals in Vietnam -- he has been a reluctant campaigner and started the race in a hole, with virtually no name recognition among Virginia voters. Warner wouldn't have had those problems. When he announced last summer that he wouldn't run be running for the Senate, Warner was still the governor of Virginia. He had a household name, and he was popular among voters. A Warner-Allen race would have been a marquee contest, a superstar smack-down between two men with presidential aspirations, and polling at the time suggested that Warner would probably get the better of it if he decided to run.

Allen's people said at the time that they weren't worried about Warner. As the Washington Post put it then, they thought that "voters need a reason to oust an incumbent." A year later, Allen has given voters plenty of reasons -- so many that his campaign has apparently decided now that the best way to get him reelected on Nov. 7 is to keep him quiet in the meantime. If events had played out differently, Warner would have been there to pick up all the pieces Allen has dropped. Instead, Warner is headed home for some family time now, and Allen may be headed back to the Senate after all. The one thing they've got in common: As things stand now, neither will be his party's presidential nominee in 2008.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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