Democrats will get a look at what might have been when former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner takes the stage tonight.
Warner, leading in his U.S. Senate race against his Republican challenger by a couple of dozen polling points, was once considered a contender for the Democratic nomination.
But with Hillary Clinton thought by most to be a shoo-in in the fall of 2006, Warner removed his name from consideration. A year later, he announced his Senate candidacy.
Tonight, Warner and Clinton's public paths cross again as he goes to the stage as keynote speaker before her effort to soften the bitterness over her and Barack Obama's pitched battle for the nomination.
Warner, a Harvard Law School graduate, worked for Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., before using his knowledge of telecommunications law to amass cellular phone licenses and eventually help launch Nextel.
Hs tenure as Virginia governor was marked by a bipartisan approach and fiscal conservatism. His popularity was so great that his lieutenant governor, Tim Kaine, was able to succeed him in a lopsided victory. Warner told reporters that he's not planning to fire up Democrats as much as he plans to make a plea for bipartisan cooperation.
“There may be parts of the speech that aren't going to get a lot of applause,” Warner told the Associated Press , “but I've got to say what I believe will get our country back on the right path.”
With Obama in need of Virginia's electoral votes and polls showing voters evenly divided in the Old Dominion, some Democrats want Warner to use some of his political capital to beat up John McCain.
“This isn't the Richmond Chamber of Commerce,” said Democratic consultant Paul Begala.
Warner's seeming refusal to play partisan attack dog underscores what analysts see as his problem within the Democratic Party, and his ultimate obstacle to any presidential ambitions.
“He would have been crushed in his party's primary,” former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele said. “And that's the way our system works, unfortunately. You have to appeal to the extremes to get nominated. Would Mark Warner do well in a general election? Quite possibly? Would his party accept his approach? Not likely.”