RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One possible contender for the Democratic nomination in 2008 is Mark Warner, the former governor of heavily Republican Virginia. This week he sat with Steve Inskeep, who began with the question that many analysts are asking.
STEVE INSKEEP reporting:
How would you expect that you would be able to defeat Hillary Clinton for the nomination?
Mr. MARK WARNER (Democrat, Former Governor of Virginia): Well, that assumes that I take the plunge into this race...
INSKEEP: Well, let's say you did.
Mr. WARNER: Well, I think the one thing that's almost always been true is that conventional wisdom two years out from the election is almost always wrong.
INSKEEP: What's the rationale for what might be described as a red-state Democratic governor?
Mr. WARNER: Well, happen to know one or two of those. And what we're able to do in Virginia was we were actually able to get results. We were able to take a fiscal meltdown where we had close to a $6 billion shortfall. We had an honest debate about finances in a state that had birthed the anti-tax movement, where we actually raised some taxes, lowered others, net increased revenues, put in place a long-term financial plan for the state that was overwhelmingly passed and supported, even with a very Republican legislature. And, one of the things that I'm proudest of, we were able to bring back small-town Virginia. Somewhat similar to anywhere in small-town America, where, I don't think we're going to make it in this country if everybody's going to move to a major urban area.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
You're talking about towns that voted overwhelmingly, huge margins, for President Bush in both elections.
Mr. WARNER: Absolutely. And towns that really haven't, from either political party, been offered much hope. What we did in Virginia is we changed the education system, put a whole new focus back on those communities that didn't have the best education system, gave them those tools.
INSKEEP: You mentioned that you raised taxes as governor of Virginia. Do you think it will be necessary for the next president to raise taxes?
Mr. WARNER: What I did in Virginia was I cut more state spending than any governor in Virginia history, reformed the operations of government. We still had a structural budget deficit. At the end of the day, we put together a plan that I think not only made our tax code fairer, but yes, did raise more revenues.
At the national level you start on slowing federal spending. At the end of the day, do you still potentially have to look at revenues? You don't take anything off the table, but you start, like any smart businessperson would, by tightening your belt and looking at how you can actually reform operations.
INSKEEP: When you look at the size of the deficits that the federal government faces, and you know numbers, do you think it's likely?
Mr. WARNER: I think it's going to take some real heavy lifting that is going to leave everything on the table. I think what Americans want is--they want to make sure that as they pay their tax dollars, and nobody likes taxes, I don't like taxes, but you also want to see a level of service coming back from those dollars. You want to make sure that those dollars are not frittered away.
And one of those things I think Americans have seen, particularly out of this administration, is a lack of competence. Even when they get the policy right, they can't execute. You see it in the kind of the bungling efforts of bringing on a Medicare drug benefit to our seniors. You see it clearly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about another issue where it would seem that voters are not satisfied entirely with the president's performance, but they've been reluctant to embrace Democrats. What would a Democratic president do differently? What could a Democratic president do differently in 2009, in Iraq?
Mr. WARNER: Well, first of all, get rid of Secretary Rumsfeld. It's remarkable, in my mind, that the architect of this war is still calling the shots. A failed Iraq is not in America's best long-term interest. We've got to look at how we can not simply make this an American problem, a regional contact group, similar to North Korea, potentially a UN high commission, or some way to make--have more international responsibility in terms of how we end up with simply a stable Iraq, and leave the country in no worse shape, at least in terms of threatening to America and destabilizing to the region, than before we went in.
INSKEEP: No worse shape. Are you saying we have to lower the bar? Lower the standard a little bit to the point where the United States would be willing to get out?
Mr. WARNER: I'm not one that believes we can set an arbitrary deadline, but I think if we don't see the Iraqis themselves come together in weeks, not months, in terms of forming this unity government, and then if we don't see measurable progress in months, not years, after this government is formed, then I think we have to look at a way to get out. We don't need American troops simply playing referee inside a civil war in Iraq.
INSKEEP: Well, Governor Mark Warner, thanks very much.
Mr. WARNER: Thank you.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And you can hear an extended version of Steve's interview with Mark Warner and read an analysis of the former governor's potential presidential candidacy at our website, npr.org.