Is Every Democrat In Virginia a 'Centrist'?

Former Gov. Jim Gilmore threw his hat in the ring to replace Sen. John Warner on Monday, and The Washington Post is already classifying the race as Social Conservative vs. Pro-Business Centrist. Post reporter Anita Kumar quickly summed up the race this way:

For a traditionally conservative state that has favored Democrats since Gilmore left office, a matchup with former governor Mark R. Warner would provide a definitive choice for voters: Do they prefer a social conservative who cut taxes but left a deficit, or a centrist businessman who balanced the budget but raised taxes?

Gilmore, a conservative Republican who served from 1998 until 2002, and Warner, the pro-business Democrat who replaced him, clash on such topics as taxes, transportation, national security and immigration.

Notice how the Post doesn’t find tax-hiking to be a clash with being "centrist" or "pro-business." That’s at least in part because the business lobby in Virginia (at least northern Virginia) has been a barrel of tax-hike lobbyists.

In the last cycle, the Post offered the same contrast, putting George Allen on the social-conservative side, and Jim Webb on the almost-as-conservative side, even though Webb drew fervent support from the abortion and gay-left lobbies. As governor, Mark Warner largely stuck with the libertine left when social issues came before the legislature.

The Politico offered a better look at how Warner’s avoided the "hot button social issues" when headlines are at stake:

Warner’s transition from statewide campaigns to the congressional arena ensures that he will face new scrutiny over his positions on hot-button social issues and the Iraq war.

As governor, Warner largely was able to disassociate himself from the national Democratic Party, avoiding provocative issues at the national level that could hurt his standing among moderates and conservatives.

"Running for a federal office means a much more prominent role for those divisive social issues that a centrist like Warner despises," said University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato.

Could that be...because those divisive social issues makes him harder to portray himself as a "centrist"? If Gilmore is half the "social conservative" being offered by the Post, then he will press Warner on their differences.

The other difference in the two candidates is where their hat-in-the-ring stories appeared. Gilmore drew the front of the Metro section today (with a small head-shot promo on the front page. It's nowhere on the home page of today. You only see Gilmore's face highlighted in the Discussion Forums section on the home page, illustrating Ramesh Ponnuru's "Right Matters" chat site. The headline is "The Wrong Candidate: Jim Gilmore is running for Senate. Can't Virginia Republicans do better?"

When Warner announced his Senate bid, it was on the front page of the September 12 Post. Tim Craig and Amy Gardner identified him as a moderate, self-described:

Former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner will announce today that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican John W. Warner, setting the stage for one of the most competitive races in the country next year, according to sources familiar with his decision.

Warner, 52, a self-described moderate Democrat, will make his announcement in an e-mail to supporters Thursday but won't formally begin his campaign until after the state legislative races in November, according to the sources, who spoke directly with Warner.

The front-page placement could be due to the Post's giddy excitement that filthy-rich Warner could give  Virginia two Democratic senators for the first time since 1970.

Washington Post
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