Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner announced today that he will run for the U.S. Senate next year, assuring his party a competitive race for a seat long in Republican hands.
The Democrat will seek the seat currently held by Republican Sen. John Warner, who is retiring after 30 years in office. The men are not related.
Mark Warner ended speculation about his political future in an e-mail to supporters and media.
He ended his four-year term as governor in January 2006 with high approval ratings, but the Democrat was unable to seek re-election because of Virginia's unique ban on consecutive terms for governors.
A political moderate, he quickly turned his attention to a potential presidential campaign. After raising more than $9 million for his political action committee, he ultimately decided not to run, saying it was not the right time for his family.
Warner could have sought a second term as governor after a four-year hiatus, but decided on a second Senate race instead. He unsuccessfully challenged John Warner in 1996. A competitive race is expected in 2008. Former Gov. Jim Gilmore and Congressman Tom Davis are potential Republican contenders for the seat.
Mark Warner is one of a small number of prominent Democrats whom party officials have been recruiting for Senate races. In New Hampshire, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen has not yet said whether she will challenge Sen. John Sununu, while former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey is considering making a comeback bid to replace a retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel.
Overall, the political landscape appears to favor Democrats, given public opposition to the war in Iraq, President Bush's poor approval ratings and the fact that Republicans must defend 22 of the 34 seats on the ballot next year.
Aside from open seats in Virginia and Nebraska, Republicans face a struggle for the seat of Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, who is retiring. Sununu and at least three other incumbents face potentially strong challenges. They include Sens. Norm Coleman in Minnesota, Gordon Smith in Oregon and Susan Collins in Maine.
Republicans reacted coolly to the anticipated announcement. "We're glad to see Mark Warner finally made a choice on which office to run for — I guess he got tired of waiting by the phone for a presidential campaign to call," said Rebecca Fisher, spokeswoman for the GOP campaign committee.