Mark Warner

This article is about the current senior Senator from Virginia. For the (unrelated) former Virginia Senator, see John Warner.
For other people named Mark Warner, see Mark Warner (disambiguation).
Mark Warner
United States Senator
from Virginia
Assumed office
January 3, 2009
Serving with Tim Kaine
Preceded by John Warner
Vice Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus
Assumed office
January 3, 2017
Serving with Elizabeth Warren
Leader Chuck Schumer (Elect)
Preceded by Chuck Schumer
69th Governor of Virginia
In office
January 12, 2002  January 14, 2006
Lieutenant Tim Kaine
Preceded by Jim Gilmore
Succeeded by Tim Kaine
Personal details
Born Mark Robert Warner
(1954-12-15) December 15, 1954
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Lisa Collis
Children 3
Alma mater George Washington University (BA)
Harvard University (JD)
Website Senate website

Mark Robert Warner (born December 15, 1954) is an American politician and the senior United States Senator from Virginia, in office since 2009. He is a member of the Democratic Party. Warner was the 69th Governor of Virginia, holding the office from 2002–06, and is the honorary chairman of the Forward Together PAC. Warner delivered the keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Apart from politics, Warner is also known for his involvement in telecommunications-related venture capital during the 1980s; he founded the firm Columbia Capital.

In 2006, he was widely expected to pursue the Democratic nomination in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections; however, he announced in October 2006 that he would not run, citing a desire not to disrupt his family life. Warner was considered to be a potential vice presidential candidate, until he took himself out of consideration after receiving the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.[1]

Contested by another former governor of Virginia, Jim Gilmore, Warner won the election with 65% of the vote. Warner won re-election to the seat in 2014, defeating former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, although his margin of only 17,000 votes was much narrower than expected.[2]

Early life, education, and business career

Warner was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of Marjorie (née Johnston) and Robert F. Warner. He has a younger sister, Lisa. He grew up in Illinois, and later in Vernon, Connecticut, where he graduated from Rockville High School. He has credited his interest in politics to his eighth grade social studies teacher, Jim Tyler, who "inspired him to work for social and political change during the tumultuous year of 1968."[3] He was class president for three years at Rockville High School and hosted a weekly pick-up basketball game at his house, "a tradition that continues today."[3]

Warner later went on to minor in political science at The George Washington University (GW), earning his B.A. in 1977 with a 4.0 GPA. He was valedictorian of his class at GW and the first in his family to graduate from college.[3]

At GW he worked on Capitol Hill to pay for his tuition, riding his bike early mornings to the office of U.S. Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT).[3] When his parents visited him at college, he obtained two tickets for them to tour the White House; when his father asked him why he didn't get a ticket for himself, he replied, "I'll see the White House when I'm president."[3] After graduation, Warner attended Harvard Law School, where he coached the school's first intramural women's basketball team and received his Juris Doctor in 1980. Warner has never practiced law.[3]

In the early 1980s, he served as a staffer to U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT).[4]

He later used his knowledge of federal telecommunication law and policies as a broker of mobile phone franchise licenses, making a significant fortune. As founder and managing director of Columbia Capital, a venture capital firm, he helped found or was an early investor in a number of technology companies, including Nextel. He co-founded Capital Cellular Corporation, and built up an estimated net worth of more than $200 million.[5][6] As of 2012, he was the wealthiest U.S. Senator.[7]

State activism

Warner involved himself in public efforts related to health care, telecommunications, information technology and education. He managed Douglas Wilder's successful 1989 gubernatorial campaign and served as chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1993-95. He created four investment funds across Virginia and donated millions to charity, which he later touted in political campaigns.

1996 U.S. Senate election

He unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1996 against incumbent Republican John Warner (no relation) in a "Warner versus Warner" election. Mark Warner performed strongly in the state's rural areas, making the contest much closer than many pundits expected.[4] He lost to the incumbent, 52%-47%, losing most parts of the state including the north.[8]

Governor of Virginia

2001 election

Then-Gov. Mark Warner as the state commander in chief

In 2001 Warner campaigned for governor as a moderate Democrat after years of slowly building up a power base in rural Virginia, particularly Southwest Virginia. He defeated Republican candidate Mark Earley, the state attorney general, in a "Mark versus Mark" election, with 52.16 percent, a margin of 96,943 votes, and also Libertarian candidate William B. Redpath. Warner had a significant funding advantage, spending $20 million compared with Earley's $10 million.[9]

Warner also benefited from dissension in Republican ranks after a heated battle for the nomination between Earley, backed by religious conservatives, and then-lieutenant governor John H. Hager, some of whose supporters later openly backed Warner. In the same election, Republican Jerry Kilgore was elected attorney general, and Democrat Tim Kaine was elected lieutenant governor. In his campaign for governor in 2001, Warner said that he would not raise taxes.


After he was elected in 2002, Warner drew upon a $900 million "rainy day fund" left by his predecessor, James S. Gilmore, III.[10] Warner campaigned in favor of two regional sales tax increases (Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads) to fund transportation. Virginians rejected both regional referendums to raise the sales tax in 2002.

In 2004, Warner worked with Democratic and moderate Republican legislators and the business community to reform the tax code, lowering food and some income taxes while increasing the sales and cigarette taxes. His tax package effected a net tax increase of approximately $1.5 billion annually. Warner credited the additional revenues with saving the state's AAA bond rating, held at the time by only five other states, and allowing the single largest investment in K-12 education in Virginia history. Warner also entered into an agreement with Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Virginia Senate to cap state car tax reimbursements to local governments, which had the effect of increasing car taxes in many localities.

During his tenure as governor, Warner influenced the world of college athletics. "Warner used his power as Virginia’s governor in 2003 to pressure the Atlantic Coast Conference into revoking an invitation it had already extended to Syracuse University. Warner wanted the conference, which already included the University of Virginia, to add Virginia Tech instead — and he got his way."[11]

Warner speaking in Philadelphia, May 2006.

Warner's popularity may have helped Democrats gain seats in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2003 and again in 2005, reducing the majorities built up by Republicans in the 1990s. Warner chaired the National Governors Association in 2004-05 and led a national high school reform movement. He chaired the Southern Governors' Association and was a member of the Democratic Governors Association. In January 2005, a two-year study,[12] the Government Performance Project, in conjunction with Governing magazine and the Pew Charitable Trust graded each state in four management categories: money, people, infrastructure and information. Virginia and Utah received the highest ratings average with both states receiving an A- rating overall, prompting Warner to dub Virginia "the best managed state in the nation."

Warner with Virginia House of Delegates minority leader Ward Armstrong (left) and then-U.S. Senator Jim Webb (right), November 4, 2007.

Kaine and Kilgore both sought to succeed Warner as governor of Virginia. (The Virginia Constitution forbids any governor from serving consecutive terms; so Warner could not have run for a second term in 2005.) On November 8, 2005, Kaine, the former mayor of Richmond, won with 52% of the vote. Kilgore, who had resigned as attorney general in February 2005 to campaign full-time and who had previously served as Virginia secretary of public safety, received 46% of the vote. Russ Potts, a Republican state senator, also ran for governor as an independent, receiving 2% of the vote. Warner had supported and campaigned for Kaine, and many national pundits considered Kaine's victory to be further evidence of Warner's political clout in Virginia.

On November 29, 2005, Warner commuted the death sentence of Robin Lovitt to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Lovitt was convicted of murdering Clayton Dicks at an Arlington pool hall in 1999. After his trial in 2001, Lovitt's lawyers stated that a court clerk illegally destroyed evidence that was used against Lovitt during his trial, but that could have possibly exonerated him upon further DNA testing.[13] Lovitt's death sentence would have been the 1,000th carried out in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment as permissible under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1976. In a statement, Warner said, "The actions of an agent of the commonwealth, in a manner contrary to the express direction of the law, comes at the expense of a defendant facing society's most severe and final sanction." Warner denied clemency in 11 other death penalty cases that came before him as governor.[14]

Warner also arranged for DNA tests of evidence left from the case of Roger Keith Coleman, who was put to death by the state in 1992. Coleman was convicted in the 1981 rape and stabbing death of his 19-year-old sister-in-law, Wanda McCoy. Coleman drew national attention, even making the cover of Time, by repeatedly claiming innocence and protesting the unfairness of the death penalty. DNA results announced on January 12, 2006 confirmed Coleman's guilt.[15]

In July 2005, his approval ratings were at 74%[16] and in some polls reached 80%.[17] Warner left office with a 71% approval rating in one poll.[18]

U.S. Senate

2008 election

Warner accepts the nomination as the Democratic candidate for the Senate

While on October 12, 2006, Warner ruled out a 2008 presidential bid,[19] Warner declared on September 13, 2007, that he would run for Senate in 2008, following an announcement nearly two weeks prior by then-current senator John Warner (no relation) that he would not seek reelection.

Warner delivers the keynote address during the second day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.

Warner immediately gained the endorsement of most national Democrats. He held a wide lead over his Republican opponent, fellow former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, for virtually the entire campaign.[20] Warner delivered the keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.[21]

In a Washington Post/ABC News Poll dated Wednesday, September 24, Warner was up 30 points over Gilmore.[22]

In the November election, Warner defeated Gilmore, taking 65 percent of the vote to Gilmore's 34 percent. Warner carried all but four counties in the state—Rockingham, Augusta, Powhatan and Hanover. In many cases, he ran up huge margins in areas of the state that have traditionally voted Republican.[23] This was the most lopsided margin for a contested Senate race in Virginia since Chuck Robb took 72 percent of the vote in 1988. As a result of Warner's victory, Virginia had two Democratic U.S. Senators for the first time since Harry Byrd, Jr. left the Democrats to become an independent (while still caucusing with the Democrats) in 1970.


Upon arriving in the U.S. Senate in 2009, Warner was appointed to the Senate’s Banking, Budget, and Commerce committees. Warner was later named to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2011.[24]

In 2009, Warner voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus bill. As a member of the Budget Committee, he submitted an amendment designed to help the government track how the stimulus dollars were being spent.[25]

When offered the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in preparation for the 2012 election cycle, Warner declined because he wanted to keep a distance from the partisanship of the role.[26]

In the fall of 2012, Warner was approached by supporters about possibly leaving the Senate to seek a second four-year term as Virginia’s governor. After considering the prospect, Warner announced shortly after the November 2012 elections that he had chosen to remain in the Senate because he was "all in" on finding a bipartisan solution to the country’s fiscal challenges.[27]

Warner became the senior senator on January 3, 2013 when Jim Webb left the Senate and was replaced by Tim Kaine, who was lieutenant governor while Warner was governor.

In 2014, Ed Gillespie criticized him for using tax payer money to fly in a luxury airplane.[28]

Health care

On a video in his Senate office, Warner promised Virginians, "I would not vote for a health-care plan that doesn’t let you keep health insurance you like."[29]

He voted for the 2010 Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare), helping the Senate reach the required sixty votes to prevent it from going to a filibuster. (As there were exactly 60 Democratic Senators at the time, each Democrat can be said to have cast the deciding vote.)[30] He and 11 Senate freshmen discussed adding an amendment package aimed at addressing health care costs by expanding health IT and wellness prevention.[31][32]


From the start of his Senate term, Warner attempted to replicate in Washington, D.C. the bipartisan partnerships that he used effectively during his tenure as Virginia governor. In 2010, Warner worked with a Republican colleague on the Banking Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), to write a key portion of the Dodd-Frank Act that seeks to end taxpayer bailouts of failing Wall Street financial firms by requiring "advance funeral plans" for large financial firms.[33]

In 2013, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress gave Sens. Warner and Corker its Publius Award for their bipartisan work on financial reform legislation.[34]


In 2011, Warner voted for the four-year extension of the USA PATRIOT Act.

2010 publicity photo of Warner

In 2011, he engaged Northern Virginia’s high-tech community in a pro-bono effort to correct burial mistakes and other U.S. Army management deficiencies at Arlington National Cemetery.[35] In 2012, he successfully pushed the Navy to improve the substandard military housing in Hampton Roads.[36]

Also in 2012, he pushed the Office of Personnel Management to address the chronic, sometimes year-long backlog in processing retirement benefits for federal workers, many of whom live in Washington's northern Virginia suburbs.[37] Warner was successful in pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand access to PTSD treatment for female military veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.[38]

Warner was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Medal by U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the Navy's highest honor for a civilian, for his consistent support of Virginia's military families and veterans.[39]


Between 2010-13, Warner invested considerable time and effort in leading the Senate’s Gang of Six, along with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).[40] The unlikely duo organized an effort to craft a bipartisan plan along the lines of the Simpson-Bowles Commission to address U.S. deficits and debt.[41]

Although the Gang of Six ultimately failed to produce a legislative "grand bargain", they did agree on the broad outlines of a plan that included spending cuts, tax reforms that produced more revenue, and reforms to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security—entitlement reforms that are opposed by most Democrats.[42] Although President Obama showed interest in the plan, leaders in Congress from both parties kept a deal from being made.[43] In 2011, the bipartisan Concord Coalition awarded Warner and Chambliss its "Economic Patriots Award" for their work with the Gang of Six.[44]

Gun laws

On April 17, 2013, Warner voted to expand background checks for gun purchases as part of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment.[45][46]


On the Senate Budget Committee, Warner was appointed chairman of a bipartisan task force on government performance in 2009.[47] Warner was a lead sponsor of the 2010 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), which imposed specific program performance goals across all federal agencies and set up a more transparent agency performance review process.[48]

On May 21, 2013, Warner introduced the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (S. 994; 113th Congress). "The legislation requires standardized reporting of federal spending to be posted to a single website, allowing citizens to track spending in their communities and agencies to more easily identify improper payments, waste and fraud."[49][50] On November 6, 2013, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee unanimously passed DATA.[51]

On January 27, 2014, a version of the White House OMB's marked up version of the bill was leaked. This White House version "move[s] away from standards and toward open data structures to publish information" and "requir[es] OMB in consultation with Treasury to 'review and, if necessary, revise standards to ensure accuracy and consistency through methods such as establishing linkages between data in agency financial systems ... .'"[52] Senator Warner's responded with the following statement: "The Obama administration talks a lot about transparency, but these comments reflect a clear attempt to gut the DATA Act. DATA reflects years of bipartisan, bicameral work, and to propose substantial, unproductive changes this late in the game is unacceptable. We look forward to passing the DATA Act, which had near universal support in its House passage and passed unanimously out of its Senate committee. I will not back down from a bill that holds the government accountable and provides taxpayers the transparency they deserve."[53][54]

On April 10, 2014, the Senate voted by unanimous consent to pass the bill, which was then passed by the House in a voice vote on April 28, 2014.[55]

Minimum wage

In April 2014, the United States Senate debated the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 1737; 113th Congress). The bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) to increase the federal minimum wage for employees to $10.10 per hour over the course of a two-year period.[56] The bill was strongly supported by President Barack Obama and many Democratic Senators, but strongly opposed by Republicans in the Senate and House.[57][58][59] Warner expressed a willingness to negotiate with Republicans about some of the provisions of the bill, such as the timeline for the phase-in.[58] Warner said that any increase needs to be done "in a responsible way."[60]

Other issues

Senator Warner before greeting the new King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 27, 2015

Warner was the original Democratic sponsor of the Startup Act legislation and has partnered with the bill's original author Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) to introduce three iterations of the bill: Startup Act in 2011, Startup Act 2.0 in 2012 and Startup Act 3.0 in early 2013. Warner describes the legislation as the 'logical next step' following enactment of the bipartisan JOBS Act."[61]


In October 2014, Warner was implicated in a federal investigation of the 2014 resignation of Virginia State Senator Phillip Puckett, a Democrat. He is alleged to have "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."[62] A Warner spokesman acknowledged that the conversation occurred, but said Warner made no "explicit" job offer[63] and that he and Puckett were simply "brainstorming".[64]

In January 2015, The Republican Party of Virginia filed a formal complaint against Warner with the United States Senate Select Committee on Ethics, alleging Warner's interactions with Puckett violated the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.[65]

Campaign contributions

From 2008-14, some of his top ten campaign contributors were JP Morgan Chase, the Blackstone Group and Columbia Capital.[66] BlackRock had never contributed until Warner bought shares in the BlackRock Equity Dividend Fund in 2011.[66]

Committee assignments

Electoral history

United States Senate election in Virginia, 2014[67]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Mark Warner (inc.) 1,073,667 49.15% -15.88%
Republican Ed Gillespie 1,055,940 48.34% +14.62%
Libertarian Robert Sarvis 53,102 2.43% +1.87%
Other Write-ins 1,764 0.08% -0.01%
Plurality 17,727 0.81% -30.49%
Turnout 2,184,473
Democratic hold Swing


United States Senate election in Virginia, 2008[68]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Mark Warner 2,369,327 65.03% +65.03%
Republican Jim Gilmore 1,228,830 33.72% -48.85%
Independent Greens Glenda Parker 21,690 0.60%
Libertarian Bill Redpath 20,269 0.56%
Write-ins 3,178 0.09%
Majority 1,140,497 31.30% -41.53%
Turnout 3,643,294
Democratic gain from Republican Swing
Virginia gubernatorial election, 2001[69]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Mark Warner 984,177 52.16% +9.60%
Republican Mark Earley 887,234 47.03% -8.79%
Libertarian Bill Redpath 14,497 0.77%
Write-ins 813 0.04%
Majority 96,943 5.14% -8.11%
Turnout 1,886,721
Democratic gain from Republican Swing
United States Senate election in Virginia, 1996[70]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican John Warner (inc.) 1,235,744 52.48% -28.43%
Democratic Mark Warner 1,115,982 47.39%
Write-ins 2,989 0.13%
Majority 119,762 5.09% -57.67%
Turnout 2,354,715
Republican hold Swing

Personal life

Warner is married to Lisa Collis, whom he had met in 1984 at a fraternity keg party in Washington, D.C..[3] While on their honeymoon in 1989 in Egypt and Greece, Warner became ill; when he returned home, doctors discovered he had suffered a near-fatal burst appendix. Warner spent two months in the hospital recovering from the illness.[3] During her husband's tenure as governor, Collis was the first Virginia first lady to use her maiden name. Warner and Collis have three daughters: Madison, Gillian, and Eliza.

Warner is involved in farming and winemaking at his Rappahannock Bend farm. There, he grows 15 acres (61,000 m2) of grapes for Ingleside Vineyards; Ingleside bottles a private label that Warner offers at charity auctions.[71]


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  2. "Why Polls Missed a Shocker in Virginia's Senate Race",; accessed November 7, 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Hook, Carol S. "10 Things You Didn't Know About Mark Warner", U.S. News & World Report, November 5, 2008.
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  31. David Broder op-ed,; accessed May 17, 2014.
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  37. Archived 29 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
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Archival Records
Party political offices
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(Class 2)

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Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Virginia
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Most recent
Preceded by
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Political offices
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Succeeded by
Tim Kaine
Preceded by
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Preceded by
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U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Virginia
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