(AP) Democrats must stop forcing presidential candidates to “check every box in terms of Democratic orthodoxy” if the party is win back the White House, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner told The Associated Press.
“One of my critiques of Senator Kerry, and I campaigned hard for Senator Kerry, was I can’t tell you where he ever broke with anything in Democratic orthodoxy,” Warner said in an interview with the AP Tuesday. “We’ve got to rethink the way we talk to the American people, what we lay out as to where we’re headed.”
Warner was in Iowa to tout his plans for strengthening high school curriculum and to prepare for a meeting later this summer of the National Governors Association. He’s been mentioned as a potential candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and was doing absolutely nothing to dampen that speculation during his high-profile visit.
With Gov. Tom Vilsack in tow, Warner was giving interviews to Iowa reporters and meeting with newspaper editorial boards to talk about how Democrats must reshape their message, and holding out his own status as an example of how the party can broaden its appeal.
“I’m a Democratic governor in a state that’s about as red as it gets,” said Warner.
Warner also was taping a television program with high school students airing statewide later this week on Iowa Public Television.
“I am talking to a few other folks on the political side as well,” said Warner.
Iowa’s precinct caucuses traditionally launch the presidential nominating season, and potential candidates already are beginning to touch base with activists in the state.
“I answer it with the traditional political punt,” Warner said when asked about his intentions. “If I want to do anything else in politics, the most important thing I can do for the next eight or nine months is not mess up my job as governor of Virginia.”
In offering a prescription for winning back the White House, Warner argued it’s a case of finding ways to appeal to voters and states that are currently being written off.
“My belief is that Democrats as a party, if we continue to only be competitive in 16 states and hope that if everything breaks right we can get to a 17th state and somehow get 270 electoral votes, we do this country a disservice and we do the Democratic Party a disservice,” said Warner.
Warner rejected arguments that the solution for Democrats is to energize core voters, saying the party must find a way to expand that base.
“Democrats aren’t the majority party in this country,” Warner said. “We’ve got to convince some other folks to think about voting Democratic.”
Warner deflected questions about whether the party has become too liberal.
“What Democrats have to do is we have to shift the debate from kind of right-left, liberal-conservative to future-past,” said Warner. “As Democrats we have been successful in this country … when we’ve laid out ideas about how we’re going to grapple with the future.”
Warner said it’s ironic that Democrats have lost control of both Congress and the White House and still are fighting to avoid change.
“The Congressional wing of the Democratic Party is kind of the ultimate party of the status quo,” said Warner.
He argued that Democrats have a historic opportunity because the right wing of the Republican Party has seized control and is demanding results.
“The right wing of the Republican Party that for years has been saying, ‘We ask our candidate to pay lip service to all these agenda items’ and they haven’t asked for results,” said Warner. “That’s changing. They’re asking for results.”
That leaves a group of voters in the middle, he said.
“The most endangered political species is not a liberal Democrat, but it’s a moderate Republican,” said Warner. “There’s a wide swath of people out there that are looking for a different kind of leadership.”
Warner cannot succeed himself as governor and his interest in a political future is clear.
“I can honestly say, to quote my colleague from California, ‘I’ll be back,'” said Warner.