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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Gov Warner: Dems Need ‘Aspirational, Future-oriented, Hopeful Vision’

Salon.com’s Tim Grieve continues his excellent series on Dems to watch with his interview with Virginia’s popular Governor Mark Warner, frequently mentioned as a presidential contender for ’08. Warner, Grieve says,

…got himself elected governor of Virginia in 2001 in large part by reaching out to rural voters who were supposed to be in the Republicans’ pocket. Warner sponsored a NASCAR team, used a bluegrass song as his campaign theme, and appealed directly to gun-loving hunters and sportsmen — and it worked.

Warner would bring impressive assets to a white house race. As Grieve notes,

He’s a governor, not a Washington politician; he’s got money and the ability to raise more; he’s got a base of supporters in the high-tech world; he’s a Southerner, or at least he is one now; he’s got crossover appeal because of his centrist views; and he’s got time because Virginia terms out its governors after just four years.

Warner says that “perhaps the most vulnerable entity in politics today is not the liberal Democrat but the moderate Republican.” But he says the Dems must “get past some of the cultural issues that just make us seem foreign.” Not surprisingly, Warner sees the “write-off the south” strategy as a sure loser for Democrats:

If Democrats do not commit to being a national party, competitive everywhere in this country, we do not only our party but our country a disservice. Because even if we elect a president on a 16- or 17-state strategy, we skip two-thirds of this country, and I’m not sure we truly set the agenda.

Warner describes the Dems greatest failure in ’04

There was discontent leading up to the 2004 election. Somehow, we didn’t have that aspirational, future-oriented, hopeful vision of America — we didn’t lay it out. We laid — “Here are the programs.”

Grieve does get Warner to outline various policy positions. But he also draws out Warner’s views about what the Democratic Party must do to win. Warner, who has established a federal political action committee, says Democrats have to focus more intently on crafting a future vision:

My starting premise is that I really think we need to change the framing of the political debate, from right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal, to future vs. past. The Democratic Party at its best has always been when it has been about the future…Democrats have to be a party that recognizes that, in a global economy, the way America is going to maintain its position in the world is by having the best educated workforce. Democrats should be the party that says America has got to lead the world not only with our military might but with our moral might as well. Democrats ought to be the party that represents innovation, investment in research.