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VA Governor Mark Warner visits New Hampshire....


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Flirting in N.H.



Buoyed by an election success, Virginia's governor tests his presidential campaign skills in New Hampshire.



MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner brought his centrist brand of pragmatic politics to New Hampshire on Friday, telling 200 party activists that voters seek a call to arms to change the direction of the country.


Sounding much like a presidential-candidate-in-waiting, the outgoing Virginia governor delivered a preliminary draft of a campaign stump speech that contrasted his relatively successful tenure in Richmond with the widespread public unease plaguing the Bush White House.


"If you want to compare how things are going in Virginia with how they're going in Washington, we'll take that comparison any day of the week," he said to roars of approval. "I don't know many Americans who don't know in their gut that things are not going right in this country."


The governor's visit to New Hampshire - which traditionally hosts the first-in-the-nation presidential primaries - came on the heels of Democrat Tim Kaine's successful campaign to succeed Warner in a race that turned largely on the governor's soaring popularity.


The electoral win quickly raised Warner's national profile and hastened moves that seem squarely aimed at building support for a presidential run in 2008.


His federal political action committee, Forward Together, launched a Web site (www .forwardtogetherpac.com) and plans a major fundraiser Dec. 6 in Northern Virginia that organizers hope will generate $1 million.


Apparently eager to promote himself on the national political stage, Warner has hit the talk-show circuit in recent days, including an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," and he won a flattering profile in this week's Time magazine, which named him one of the five best governors in the country.


But perhaps nothing better illustrates presidential ambition than a visit to New Hampshire, where voters take their politics seriously - and apparently never tire of it.


That is why Susan Scheffer, a lawyer from the state's capital, Concord, found herself at the Puritan Restaurant in Manchester on Friday - three years before the next presidential election.


Scheffer didn't seem to mind dining on chicken and rice in the overflow room when the crowd proved larger than anticipated.


"I came seeking a viable Democratic candidate," Scheffer said before Warner's speech. "From what I understand, he's fiscally conservative. I'm totally interested in having a Southern president who can speak to a strong voting bloc. We didn't get that with Kerry," she said, referring to Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry's failed presidential bid last year.


Speaking without notes, Warner introduced himself to the crowd of Democratic officeholders and party activists with a speech that was part personal biography and laced with self-effacing humor.


He proudly recounted his first business venture - an energy startup company funded with what was then his life savings of $5,000.


"In six weeks, I helped that company go totally broke," he said.


When a ringing cell phone interrupted his speech, Warner - a co-founder of Nextel who made his millions in the cell phone industry - didn't flinch.


"When you hear an obnoxious sound, I hear ka-ching, ka-ching," he said, in what has become a perennial crowd-pleaser.


Republicans bristle at the Warner legacy in Virginia, which they say is little more than a $1.4 billion tax increase. But Warner's bipartisan approach to solving the state's budget woes through spending cuts and tax increases has won him a host of admirers. His approval ratings in Virginia are now higher than those of any of the last six governors, according to Mason-Dixon polling.


Nationally, some Democrats see in Warner a model of a centrist candidate who could compete in what has been the party's most hostile terrain in recent years: the South.


By the time Warner finished speaking, Scheffer was a believer.


"I was bowled over," she said. "He's charismatic. I really was impressed with his credentials."


Asked if she planned to support him if he runs for president, Scheffer said, "I'm going to write a check."


Many other Democrats took a standoffish view, saying it is too early to judge potential candidates who are just beginning to get acquainted with New Hampshire voters.


"We audition the candidates," said Tim Ashwell, the Democratic Party chairman for the town of Durham, who teaches at the University of New Hampshire. "We do have to be courted. But the governor put himself on the list now. He's someone folks in this room are going to be talking about."


Left unresolved - but on the minds of seasoned politicos here - is how Warner would compete against the fame, wealth and star status of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has captured the hearts of much of the party's liberal base.


Clinton has yet to visit New Hampshire, though she is widely touted as a likely presidential contender in 2008 if she wins re-election to her Senate seat next year.


"She's obviously the elephant in the room," said Sylvia Larsen, the Democratic leader of the state Senate in Concord. "She would be a well-known, well-financed and highly liked candidate."


Asked what she made of Warner, Larsen said: "I thought he connected really well. I'd like to hear more of his policies and read more. I'm keeping my options open."


Warner, who turns 51 next month, is beginning to craft a national message that hinges on training and educating tomorrow's work force for the fast-paced, technologically driven, global economy of the 21st century. And he is casting himself as the businessman and high-tech guru with the political know-how and experience to manage that economic and social transformation.


At a morning education forum in Nashua that he hosted with New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, Warner spoke of his passion for retooling the American high school to better serve non-college-bound students who need technical training to compete in the changing job market.


"We've got to target some of these students who are at risk," he told a friendly group of educators at Nashua South High School. "In this age of global competition, we don't have the luxury of not having every child succeed."


Some Democrats said his agenda will need clearer focus as he develops a national campaign platform.


"The real challenge for him is to become better known and sharpen his message," said state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark. "But I think he generated a lot of excitement. He really connects on a one-on-one basis, which is what New Hampshire campaigning is all about."


In concluding his speech, Warner heaped praise on New Hampshire, which he said should always have the right to hold the first presidential primary.


"There's a special sense of stewardship and responsibility here," he told the crowd. "I thank you for that stewardship. And I look forward to continuing this conversation."


And on his way out of town, before shuffling into a minivan, Warner told reporters, "I'll be back."




How f***ing cool would this be? You Democrats need this guy to run. Not Hillary. If y'all nominate Mark, I will give all the time and money I can to his campaign.

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Mark is going to run, thats pretty much as sure as the sun rising. I really hope he wins the nomination also, not just because I think he has a good chance at winning it all. He seems to have the perfect mix of genuineness and intelligence. Im planning on supporting Warner 08 for the democratic nomination. I really hope he can overcome any speaking difficulties though.

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I like Warner, he's exactly what the Democratic Party needs right now, a slightly left of center, experienced politician who can get some of those southern votes away from the Republicans. If it was between him and Hillary, I'd go with Warner in a heartbeat. I'm not a big fan of Clinton, and I think that if she becomes the candidate, it will hurt the Democratic Party more than it will help it. I was never a real fan of her moving to New York to become a senator there, it's a move that I feel should be outlawed by U.S. law in the future.

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