Running for the Senate is one of the more popular career moves for Virginia governors, and a tradition that former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner will follow in 2008 when he makes a bid for the seat vacated by Republican John Warner, who is retiring. The former Warner, who challenged John Warner for the seat in 1994 and lost before being elected governor in 2001, announced his intentions this morning in a video on his website.
Two quirks in Virginia election law position governors for a Senate run. The state constitution prohibits a second consecutive term, so reelection in not an option. (They can run again after a term out of office, which led some to speculate that Warner would run for his old job in 2009.) The gubernatorial elections also occur in odd years, so there is a two out of three chance that one of the state's two six-year Senate terms will expire a year after a governor leaves office, when he is still fresh on the electorate's mind.
In recent memory, Democrat Charles Robb, who was elected governor in 1981, won a Senate seat three years after leaving the gubernatorial office. In 1994, when he was up for re-election, he was briefly opposed from within his own party by Doug Wilder, who had finished up his term as Virginia's governor in January. Robb won re-election that year but lost six years later to yet another former governor, the now infamous George Allen, a Republican.
With John Warner retiring and Mark Warner unlikely to face a serious threat from within the Democratic primary, speculation has already turned to whether Republican Jim Gilmore, Warner's predecessor as governor who ran a short-winded presidential campaign this year, might toss his hat in the ring. Were this to happen, it would mean five of the previous six governors of Virginia—everyone except Democrat Gerald Baliles, who succeeded Robb—would have made a bid for a six-year stint in Washington.