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THAT'S NOT global warming you feel. It's the national political spotlight on Virginia. Thanks to the commonwealth's 13 purplish electoral votes, the Mother of Presidents might have just enough political heft to decide the presidential election.
Meanwhile, no one can seem to predict who's going to win the Battle of the Ex-Governors, George Allen or Tim Kaine, as they battle each other for a seat in the U.S. Senate (although, as we write, Mr. Kaine has taken a small lead in the polls).
But don't let the fireworks of 2012 blind you to what could be another hallmark Election Day in Virginia a year later--particularly if yet another former governor decides he wants his old job back. Virginia's unique ban on successive gubernatorial terms produces a regular supply of former chief executives looking for "second act" possibilities.
Like Messrs. Kaine and Allen, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner probably will never find another political job as satisfying as the leader of the commonwealth, unless its address is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He is the most popular ex-governor in recent Virginia history and, in all likelihood, a fat majority of Virginians would carry him on their backs into the Governor's Mansion for a second term if he ran.
So why doesn't he?
For all the frustrations of being one of 100 in the U.S. Senate, Mr. Warner has become a go-to centrist for deal-making. Whether it's the Gang of Six trying to work out a budget deal or some wonky proposal to strengthen infrastructure, you can often find him in the center of the action. That's what happens when you dub yourself a "radical centrist." He's that rare politician who can rouse the partisan troops while acting as an independent problem-solver.
So one of the reasons to stay put is that Mr. Warner could continue to be one of those lonely voices of reason in the Senate over the next few years, no matter who wins the White House.
There's also the matter of preserving gubernatorial legacy. Thanks to key support from Republican state Sen. John Chichester, then-Gov. Warner worked out a bipartisan economic deal that boosted his popularity just as he was departing Richmond to resettle in his homes in Alexandria and King George. A second term as governor might hold little hope of besting that record. As Hollywood demonstrates, few sequels match the first movie.
THE GODWIN SYNDROME
Or just take a look at history in the person of Mills E. Godwin Jr., the only modern-day Virginia governor elected to non-successive terms. As a Democrat in the 1960s, Godwin was perceived as a force for modernizing Virginia's approach to public spending. He led the campaign to do away with the hallowed pay-as-you-go model of Virginia conservatism. As a Republican in the 1970s, however, Godwin became more a defender of the status quo.
But that anticlimactic second term doesn't have to be the fate of Mark Warner, should he reset his sights on Richmond. Plus, a 2013 campaign for governor still leaves him time to finish national business in Washington with the new administration.
His candidacy would easily trump the nascent Democratic campaign of Terry McAuliffe, a Washingtonian with a big wallet but few real ties to Virginia. It would also turn Mr. Warner into an instant Democratic hero as the man who kept Tea Party-friendly Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP attorney general, out of the Governor's Mansion.
And then there's the future. As a Southern governor specializing in problem-solving, Mr. Warner would enhance his stature as a post-partisan presidential possibility in 2016.
Another round of Mark Warner as governor? It's an intriguing possibility. After all, no moderate in the U.S. Senate will be able to clean up the mess in Washington anytime soon. But a successful governor, Washington-savvy, would be in a strong position to argue that he could offer the nation a different style of leadership at the top.