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Salon Interview with Mark Warner

Salon interview with potential 2008 Presidential candidate Gov. Mark Warner:

"People in rural America may speak a little slower, but they can spot a phony a mile away," Warner says. "You see other candidates who say, 'Let's just do the optics.' But unless you feel as comfortable hanging out at a country fair or having a beer and eatin' some barbecue as you do at your high-end, high-tech reception, people are going to see through that."

Winning elections is about more than beer and barbecue, of course: Warner says that Democrats have to engage voters in a conversation about the future, particularly the future of rural areas, small towns and midsize cities where the global economy hasn't delivered on its promise. Most of all, he says, Democrats have to give voters hope.

Can Warner give Democrats hope? In a column earlier this month, Newsweek's Howard Fineman ticked off Warner's selling points: He's a governor, not a Washington politician; he's got money and the ability to raise more; he's got a base of supporters in the high-tech world; he's a Southerner, or at least he is one now; he's got crossover appeal because of his centrist views; and he's got time because Virginia terms out its governors after just four years.

Warner sat down with Salon recently for an hour-long interview inside Virginia's 192-year-old governor's mansion.

There's been a lot of talk about the Democrats' need to "rebrand" themselves as a political party. Do you buy into it?

Somehow, we're still the party of the status quo. My starting premise is that I really think we need to change the framing of the political debate, from right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal, to future vs. past. The Democratic Party at its best has always been when it has been about the future.

How do you frame a construction of the Democrats as a party of the future? How do you articulate that to voters?

Part of the way you articulate it is -- Democrats have to be a party that recognizes that, in a global economy, the way America is going to maintain its position in the world is by having the best educated workforce. Democrats should be the party that says America has got to lead the world not only with our military might but with our moral might as well. Democrats ought to be the party that represents innovation, investment in research...

You've said in the past that Democrats can't move forward if every political conversation begins with abortion, God and guns. But the Republicans aren't going to let any conversation begin any other way. How do you break through that?

Well, on guns, I'm a supporter of existing gun laws. I believe in enforcing the existing ones rather than adding a whole lot of new ones...

I'm pro-choice, but I've been willing to support parental notification. Many folks in the Democratic Party are concerned that the debate around abortion has moved from a woman's ability to make a decision based on her own religious belief about what to do, about what kind of choice she wants to make -- where I think the overwhelming majority of Americans would still say, you know, we ought to be as much as we can about preventing abortion and we ought to be as much as we can about ensuring that women have adequate healthcare, but that ultimately a woman ought to have that choice."

You haven't mentioned faith. Not a huge issue in your campaign?

No. I think Democrats need to be able to talk about their faith. I'm a Christian, a Presbyterian. It's part of who I am. But I think that what's become the conventional political wisdom -- that every Democrat has to make sure that they include a Bible verse in every speech -- isn't the case. People want to know who you are. They see that through your faith. They see that through your values. They see that through what you've done in your life, what you emphasize as your priorities.

If there has been a perception that Democrats are somehow anti-faith -- you go back to this notion of the image that has been made of a "national Democrat," which is, you know, intellectual, anti-faith, anti-small town, anti-traditional values. But that doesn't mean that you go from that image to saying that everyone has to start with a quote from the Bible and that we have to lace that through everything we do.

And if Democrats are perceived as anti-faith in some way, then pushing too hard on that front just makes them look phony.

I don't know how to say this politely. But in all the things I did in the campaign -- well, I like NASCAR, I like bluegrass. But I didn't try to say, "That's who I am." I didn't suddenly start putting on, you know, cowboy boots and carrying a guitar or wearing camo all the time to show I'm a supporter of sportsmen. I am who I am."
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