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Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, considered a strong potential contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, said on Thursday he would not run for the White House.
Warner, a moderate Democrat who left the governor’s office early this year with extremely high approval ratings, said the surprise decision was not based on a political calculation about whether he could win the presidency.
“While politically this appears to be the right time for me to take the plunge, at this point I want to have a real life,” Warner said in a statement.
“This is not a choice based on whether I would win or lose,” he said. “I feel we would have had as good a shot to be successful as any potential candidate in the field.”
He did not rule out another run for public office in the future.
Warner said the decision was made after he visited his 81-year-old father in Connecticut and took the eldest of his three daughters on a tour to look at colleges.
“I know these moments are never going to come again,” he said, adding he could not go forward “unless I’m willing to put everything else in my life on the back burner.”
Warner was widely expected to enter what promises to be a crowded field of Democratic candidates to succeed President George W. Bush in 2008. At least a dozen Democrats and as many Republicans are pondering runs for the White House.
Warner had based his appeal to national Democrats on his ability to reach moderate and rural voters and help the party become competitive again in the South, where the party’s 2004 presidential nominee, John Kerry, failed to win a single state, and other Republican-leaning areas.
His decision clears the field of one potential challenger to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the early front-runner who will decide sometime after next month’s congressional election whether she will enter the Democratic race.
MODERATE, OR TOO MODERATE?
Warner’s potential rivals for the Democratic nomination offered their sympathy.
“I know how tough a decision this must have been. Mark Warner has much to contribute to the national debate and I look forward to working with him,” said Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, another likely White House hopeful who stresses his centrist credentials and experience in a Republican-leaning state.
Warner was expected to contend for the role of chief alternative in the nomination fight to the former first lady. Some Democrats worry Clinton, a lightning rod for conservative anger, is too polarizing and could not win a general election campaign.
Like most other potential contenders, Warner has been traveling the country all year on behalf of local Democrats, making contacts, raising money and gauging support in key presidential battleground states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Warner was sometimes likened to Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, another Southern Democratic governor whose appeal to moderates helped land him in the White House. The last three Democratic presidents have been from the South.
But Democratic consultant Doug Schoen, a former pollster for President Clinton, said anger among Democrats over the Iraq war and Bush’s policies had cast doubt on the viability of a middle-of-the-road Democratic candidate in 2008.
“The energy in the party is on the left, it’s not center or center-right,” Schoen said. “There wasn’t a rationale for Warner’s candidacy anymore.”
Warner, who made millions from a start-up cellular phone company and later headed a venture capital fund that financed telecommunications firms, emphasized his business background and his reputation as a Democrat who was equally comfortable at NASCAR auto races and high-tech conferences.
“My decision does not in any way diminish my desire to be active in getting our country fixed,” Warner said. “It doesn’t mean that I won’t run for public office again.”