RICHMOND - Sen. John W. Warner formally kicked off his re-election campaign yesterday, wearing his past refusal to back fellow GOP nominees as a badge of honor.
"It is not popular to put principle before politics. It is not popular to put state before party," said the three-term Republican senator. "But it's the way I have lived my life. I make no apologies."
During a news conference at the state Capitol, Mr. Warner, 69, stressed his conservative credentials, noting that he recently received a 94 percent Republican "party unity" rating in an analysis by Congressional Quarterly.
"My campaign will answer this question," Mr. Warner said. "Can an elected leader vote his conscience, put his principle before politics and win? Ladies and gentlemen, the Virginia I know, the Virginia I have lived in almost all of my life, the Virginia I love will say yes."
But while Mr. Warner's approval ratings are high among Virginians as a whole, he angered many members of his own party when he said 1994 Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Iran-Contra figure Oliver L. North was unfit for office.
Mr. Warner also declined to back Christian conservative Michael P. Farris in the 1993 lieutenant governor's race. Both Mr. North and Mr. Farris lost. In the last month, two county GOP committees in Virginia decided to snub Mr. Warner. In January, the Fairfax County Republican Committee abolished its loyalty pledge, a promise by party members to support all GOP nominees in the general election.
Many committee members said Mr. Warner flouted the pledge himself by refusing to support the campaigns of Mr. North and Mr. Farris.
The Augusta County Republican Party voted two weeks ago to chastise the senator for failing to follow Virginia GOP rules requiring him to support fellow Republicans. …