It’s more than 15 months before the 2020 elections and while the question of which Democrat will challenge President Trump for the White House, down-ticket races are already shaping up.
In addition to all 435 seats in the House of Representatives being up for grabs, one third of the 100 U.S. Senate will also be in play, and one of the incumbents seeking another term is Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia. The former governor, who’s in his second term, will be seeking re-election; so far, only one Republican — former U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor — has announced a bid for the GOP nomination to challenge Warner.
How such a contest would shape up is anyone’s guess at this stage, especially with election fraud scandals surrounding Taylor’s failed bid for re-election to the House in 2018. But if history is any guide, Warner should not underestimate the former Navy SEAL-turned-politician.
Warner came into the 2008 election as the heads-on favorite to succeed the retiring John Warner (no relation) who had served Virginia in the Senate since 1979. His opponent was another former governor, Republican Jim Gilmore. Polls during the campaign showed Warner with a consistent 30-point advantage, and on Election Day, he coasted to victory with 65 percent of the votes, compared to Gilmore’s 34 percent.
His re-election bid six years later in 2014 was markedly closer. Running against Republican Ed Gillespie, a former national party chairman and adviser to President George W. Bush, Warner eked out a 17,000-vote victory in a squeaker of a contest few pollsters saw coming. Republicans did manage to accomplish one thing by nearly knocking off Warner: His political wings were clipped, effectively ending any speculation of a Warner presidential bid as the 2016 election neared.
The Mark Warner who’s running for a third term in the Senate is a far cry from the Mark Warner of 2014. He’s emerged in Congress as one of the Senate’s workhorses, serving as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a leading voice for the U.S. armed services and online privacy in the face of the growing power of social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter. He’s also learned the hard lesson that blow-out elections such as 2008 are rare events and squeaker such as 2014 are more common. As a result, even at this early stage, he and his staff are taking nothing for granted regarding a possible run against Taylor.
But if state Republicans choose to nominate Taylor, they’ll be selecting a candidate with more than his share of political baggage.
Leading up to the 2018 midterms, Taylor, then in his first term representing Virginia Second Congressional District, faced a tough challenge from Democrat Elaine Luria. But also on the ballot was an independent candidate, Shaun Brown. It turns out some of Taylor’s campaign staff had collected signatures to get Brown on the November ballot in the hope of splitting the anti-Taylor votes. While legal, further investigation uncovered that many of the signatures were forged, and a state judge ordered Brown’s name stricken from the ballot, calling the entire mess “out and out fraud.” One staffer has been indicted on election fraud charges in the ongoing investigation, and all invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked if Taylor himself had directed the fraud.
Nonetheless, Taylor has promised to run a full-throated offensive against Warner, should he be the GOP nominee, and if the 2016 presidential election and Warner’s own 2014 race have taught us one thing it’s to expect the unexpected. Now, let the games begin.