RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Former Republican Sen. John W. Warner on Monday endorsed his Democratic successor over a past national GOP chairman in the race for the U.S. Senate seat he held for 30 years.
Warner told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he is supporting Sen. Mark Warner, who is being challenged by Ed Gillespie in November's election. The Warners are not related.
John Warner, a moderate, earned a reputation as a party maverick by bucking the conservatives who gradually won control of the GOP during his decades in office. He refused to endorse GOP home-schooling advocate Mike Farris for lieutenant governor and backed an independent candidate over Iran-Contra figure Oliver North in the 1994 race against Democratic Sen. Chuck Robb. But this is the first time he has endorsed a Democrat outright.
John Warner praised his successor, also a centrist, for seeking bipartisan solutions.
"You see him crossing that aisle to try to form teams to solve problems," John Warner said. "That's so essential."
The former Navy secretary defeated Mark Warner in the Democrat's first Senate campaign in 1996. Mark Warner, a multi-millionaire cell phone pioneer who had served as state Democratic Party chairman and helped run L. Douglas Wilder's campaign to become the nation's first black elected governor, lost by only 5 percentage points to the popular incumbent.
The surprisingly close race established Mark Warner as a rising Democratic star in a then-reliably Republican state. He was elected governor in 2001, then soundly defeated former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore for the Senate seat after Warner retired in 2008.
Gillespie chaired the Republican National Committee from 2003 to 2005. He also served as counselor to President George W. Bush and as an adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. He faces a little-known candidate, Shak Hill, for the GOP Senate nomination.