Fallout from the former Democratic State Senator Phil Puckett case in the Virginia General Assembly seems to have now hit U.S. Senator Mark Warner (see Warner discussed job for Puckett’s daughter by Laura Vozzella in the Washington Post).
October surprise? Game changer for Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat that was thought to be safely in Democratic control?
In a race that has seen the polls tighten in Republican challenger Ed Gillespie’s favor — once polling down almost 30 points and now has closed the gap to 10 — these final three weeks are very important. This one seems even more so because, while Gillespie already had momentum moving in his favor before the latest news broke, revelations on Friday that Warner may have been a part of the Democratic push-back at Puckett have been both surprising and revealing.
Surprising because Warner, who has passed for years as a bipartisan moderate while successfully hiding his inner liberal, waded into the bruhaha. Revealing because, along with his 97 percent voting record with President Barack Obama, it showed the happy partisan warrior that Warner is. That includes Warner’s vote for Obamacare after promising Virginians he would not support a plan that took away their health care rights.
Now, in the wake of Bob McDonnell’s conviction of smoke-and-mirror charges that could be applied to practically every politician in the land, Warner may have found himself in the same muck and under the microscope of federal investigators who are looking into the resignation of Puckett from the state senate, a resignation that sent shock waves throughout the Virginia Democratic community. Puckett’s leaving threw power in the senate to Republicans, sinking Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe’s chances of moving forward in expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.
Political reporter Laura Vozzella wrote:
The son of a former Virginia state senator has told federal investigators that U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner discussed the possibility of several jobs, including a federal judgeship, for the senator’s daughter in an effort to dissuade him from quitting the evenly divided state Senate.
Warner was part of a string of high-powered Virginia Democrats who in early June pressed then-state senator Phillip P. Puckett not to go through with plans to give up his seat in the middle of a bitterly partisan battle over health care.
A Warner spokesman acknowledged Friday that the conversation occurred, but he emphasized that the senator had made no explicit job offer.
But what was the offer and would it classify as quid pro quo?
On June 6, three days before the state senator’s resignation became official, Warner called Puckett’s son, Joseph, and discussed an appointment to the federal bench as well as a potential corporate position for Martha Puckett Ketron, according to Joseph Puckett’s attorney, Charles E. “Chuck” James Jr. of Williams Mullen.
James said that Warner suggested a post for Ketron at CGI, at high-tech firm Warner helped lure to Southwest Virginia when he was governor a decade ago.
Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said that the U.S. senator “brainstormed” with Joseph Puckett about potential private-sector jobs for Ketron. Hall also acknowledged that Warner discussed a judgeship, but he added: “He did not offer any job nor would he nor could he, frankly.”
Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin has good points that are worth reading (see Is Sen. Mark Warner in trouble?) including this:
Under the radar screen of MSM reporting on the midterms, Republican Ed Gillespie is quietly but steadily catching up to incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in Virginia. By hammering his opponent on his unwavering support for President Obama’s key policies — which the president declared “are on the ballot” — and offering his own specific proposals, Gillespie has closed the race to 10 points. Without the independent on the ballot, that gap narrows to one point. [emphasis added]
Referring to the Puckett scandal, Rubin added:
Warner’s response was less than a full-throated denial: “Warner spokesman acknowledged Friday that the conversation occurred, but he emphasized that the senator had made no explicit job offer.” Not explicit but perhaps an obvious effort to induce her father not to resign his seat. (“Warner was part of a string of high-powered Virginia Democrats who in early June pressed then-state senator Phillip P. Puckett not to go through with plans to give up his seat in the middle of a bitterly partisan battle over health care.”)
Now there’s tonight’s People’s Debate in Richmond, the last one between Gillespie and Warner, which brings up the question of whether the Puckett issue will be the elephant in the room. As Rubin noted:
[Warner] has been laying low and essentially relying on name recognition and past popularity to slide through. If nothing else, the scandal may put him under the spotlight at a time anti-incumbent fervor is running high. Look for Gillespie to narrow the race even further.
Whether Warner winds up in legal hot water remains to be seen, but for voters rocked by a trial detailing favoritism, greed and manipulation, this incident will put Warner, a once popular governor, in a different light and emphasize Gillespie’s charge that Warner has become a captive of D.C. sleazy politics.
This could become very interesting, or it could get swept under the rug. Calling Karl Rove….
– Virginia Senate Race Gets Interesting (The Weekly Standard)
– McAuliffe aide suggests job for senator’s daughter (The Washington Post)