ARLINGTON, Va. — Democratic Sen. Mark Warner emphasized his bipartisan credentials Thursday to the local voters he hopes will re-elect him in November.
"This is gonna be won with Democrats, independents, Republicans and everyone else," Warner told the crowd at The Spectrum Theatre, part of a six-day, 14-stop tour of the commonwealth that coincides with the release of his first television ad.
The rally's venue had the feel of a lecture hall, with pull-out desks on each seat. Signs were neatly stacked in a grid along a side wall as Warner spoke on a stage against a backdrop of two large signs and a flag.
Warner is favored to win over likely GOP nominee Ed Gillespie, a former RNC chairman and George W. Bush adviser. But his race could be more competitive than anticipated, in part thanks to his well-connected foe. Virginia is a competitive state that's elected both Republicans and Democrats to statewide office over the past decade. Though Democrats currently control both Senate seats and the governor's mansion, statewide elections are fiercely contested.
"Let's not make a mistake, let's not be complacent, let's not think, 'Oh, he's got this in the bag,'" said a jovial and energetic Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., introducing Warner. "Let's make sure that he wins, and that he wins big." Kaine then retired to a stool set back on the stage, onto which he folded himself in his suit and sat grinning for the duration of Warner's speech.
The auditorium, which could fit nearly 400 people, was mostly full with supporters trickling in over the course of an hour from drizzly weather outside. Volunteers dispersed themselves throughout the assembled crowd and waved signs as Warner spoke.
In his trademark coarse voice, Warner delivered a spirited speech, striding around the stage and gesturing dramatically. He spoke on how he regularly reached across the aisle as a senator and worked with his Republican colleagues on legislation. Warner touted an education bill he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another bill he worked on with retiring Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., and yet another with House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrel Issa, which earned him a loud and grimacing "ohh" from the audience.
On Obamacare, he both defended the effort to overhaul health care and called for fixes to parts of the law. "Let me tell you, there's some good things, some very good things, in the Affordable Care Act, but there's some things that desperately need to be changed," he said.
Of President Barack Obama, he said: "I work with the president when I agree with him. But I stand up when I disagree with him."
As of the end of March, Warner reported $8.8 million in cash on hand — four times as much as Gillespie. But the Republican is well-connected in the Republican Party, and his fundraising could pick up this summer after the convention. The race is rated Favored Democratic by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.