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Nervous Kaine, Victorious Herring

Gov. Tim Kaine didn't look or sound much like himself during his debut on the national stage after the president's State of the Union address. The governor, usually a confident and graceful speaker who ad libs with impressive control and sweep, seemed nervous and spoke painfully slowly at first.

But as his Democratic response to the State of the Union moved along, Kaine's pacing returned to a more normal and confident level, and he settled into what was a fairly effective version of what are almost always lame attempts to counter the grandeur and power of SOTU.

Kaine faced an impossible job: Be respectful of the president, cognizant of the essential optimism of the modern-day State of the Union form, yet present a distinctive alternative. The governor, standing in front of a fireplace in the Executive Mansion in Richmond, kept promising that the Dems have "a better way," but only rarely did he say what that way is, other than a vague utopia in which both sides work together.

But Kaine capitalized on Bush's decision to devote more than half his speech to Iraq and a war that many Americans question. The governor didn't bother to get into many of the reasons why the war is not going well; rather, he focused on the overall issue of this administration's competence, which he found lacking from the response to Hurricane Katrina to the war and on through issues domestic and foreign.

All of which is just fine, except that if there is a Democratic vision of an alternative approach to national security, we didn't get to hear about it. And presenting the Dems as the competent, fiscally responsible alternative to profligate Republican spending is a fun twist on the parties' stereotypical roles, but it only works as rhetoric if it's accompanied by specifics pointing to how the Dems would economize.

That said, Kaine offered those Americans who were still hungry for more politics after an hour-plus of the president with a comforting first look at a Democratic Southern governor, which is, of course, the only recipe for White House victory that the Dems have seen since John Kennedy in 1960.

Click the screen below to watch Kaine's Democratic response:

(Editor: Chet Rhodes -

Speaking of victorious Democrats, the other big story in Virginia is another powerful sign of a Democratic resurgence in, of all places, the conservative outer suburbs of the Washington area. In Loudoun County tonight, Democrat Mark Herring handily defeated Republican Mick Staton in a special election to succeed Sen. Bill Mims, who has left the state Senate to become Virginia's deputy attorney general.

Herring's strong win comes in a part of Loudoun that unexpectedly supported Kaine and defeated longtime Delegate Dick Black (Staton's father in law) last November. The increasingly clear message is that among the many thousands of new resident of Loudoun, there is a majority that either leans Democratic or holds independent views and favors curbs on development and has little patience for kneejerk, hard-right stands on social issues. Herring took every single precinct in the district, which bodes well for Kaine's effort to ride herd on Richmond Republicans on questions of growth, transportation and education.

Virginia politics get more intriguing by the day.

By Marc Fisher |  January 31, 2006; 10:53 PM ET
Previous: Duck, Duck, Goose | Next: D.C. Inequalities, Or How the Middle Class Got Stuck


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First, I voted for Gov Kaine. But I gotta say, it sound like classic Tom Daschle. "We want a bipartisan approach" was code for "we want the Republicans to abdicate and do it our way (whatever that way turns out to be)."

He gave me a reason to vote for him for governor, but not a single Democrat has come up with a reason for me to vote for that person for president. "Bush sucks" fits on a bumper sticker, but since Bush will be gone when the next president is sworn in, they just need to come up with a lot more than that.

Posted by: Truth B Told | February 1, 2006 12:43 AM

Doesn't Bush's language about "bi-partisanship" ring equally hollow? Isn't bi-partisanship only necessary when one party doesn't have the votes to get something done?

That said, I thought his message on competence was very important. In every government around the world incompetence, corruption and arrogance go together. They remove any internal checks on poor decisions. They prevent the government from considering even the most constructive external criticism. They make government beholden to the funders and not the voters, resulting in policies that harm the public interest. That's what's happened to the current GOP. National Democrats can change that because they take governance seriously. When Democrats propose Medicare Prescription plan, for example, it's because it goes in line with what the party truly believes. Since the Republicans don't care about that issue, they passed a botched-up bill that pleases nobody except HMOs. Democrats believe government can do good. When you buy into the Reaganite line that less government is always better then you are naturally going to approach government cynically. Big government conservatism is not only fiscally untenable. It's morally contradictory. Either cut the size of government, as the 1994 Gingrichites promised, or hand it over to people who think the government can actually do good for people.

Posted by: Elrod | February 1, 2006 1:01 AM

For both sides, I've always liked Bob Novak's definition of "bi-partisanship": Buy my partisanship.

Posted by: Will Vehrs | February 1, 2006 7:38 AM

The Governor did a fantastic job of showing the country what a responsible Democratic administration can do. His calm, erudite response made the President look even worse than he made himself look. We should all be proud of him!

Posted by: bamagirlinVA | February 1, 2006 9:40 AM

Can you explain why there's not a single word about the Loudoun election in today's Post? Isn't that a very important election, changing the balance of power in Virginia?

Posted by: sbott | February 1, 2006 9:55 AM

Kaine, as mentioned above, is normally a more confident speaker, but I'm going to cut him some slack in that one's first national address has to be stressful.

Posted by: anon. | February 1, 2006 10:15 AM

The Loudoun election led the Metro page in our Virginia Edition; the story should have been in the Maryland/D.C. edition too, but didn't make it. Readers can find full coverage at

Posted by: Fisher | February 1, 2006 10:15 AM

I live in Virginia and work in Maryland. An excellent story on the Loudoun election was on the front page of the Metro section in the Virginia edition delivered to my home, but was not carried at all in the DC/Maryland edition available at my office.

Posted by: FairfaxMontgomery | February 1, 2006 10:15 AM

Another eastern liberal throw in the face of Americans. Heck this clown wasn't even a national level politician. The Democratic Party is a disgrace, they have no ideas other than to complain and whine about the party in power. Now they stick some new B Team face in the mix.

Posted by: Colorado | February 1, 2006 10:20 AM

Everyone loves to ask "Where are the specifics". These speaches aren't the place for them. For the Dems, the specifics will start to trickle out during the upcoming elections. For Bush, the specifics will come out with the budget he releases in the coming days.

Posted by: Soulie | February 1, 2006 10:20 AM

Gov Kaine's Democratic response seemed painfully weak compared with President Bush's powerful SOTU address. Kaine's "a better way" speech is pretty much the same left over residual dreck offered up by Kerry and several other Dems who have no other plan or nothing else to offer except to say that Bush is wrong, Bush is dumb, etc...etc...

We are a nation at war and President Bush is doing exactly what we should expect our President to be doing in a time of war. Protect us and keep the economy strong.

I for one think he's doing an excellent job!

Posted by: Rick | February 1, 2006 10:32 AM

Who made the call to use FUNNY EYEBROW MAN in the Democratic response? He used one arched eyebrow to smirk through an entire speech. What's more, all he did was attempt to tear down Republican credibility--rather than advance any kind of Democratic agenda. Hard to believe the Dems could f*ck up the 2008 Presidential election when following a guy like GW, but if it can be done, they're clearly angling to do it. GET SOME LEADERSHIP. And some guys with non-evil eyebrows.

Posted by: Michael D. | February 1, 2006 10:42 AM

Colorado: National level means absolutely nothing. I'll give you 2 examples: Bill Clinton in 92, and George W in 2000.

Posted by: Chief | February 1, 2006 10:47 AM

Marc Fisher is a one sided indivdual, that feels he has all the answers. I say lets put him in the hot seat and see where he shakes out. Not a pretty picture. He is just like the many in our government. It's my way or the highway. So please do not put a lot of salt in what he presents. Just calling it the way it is. Common Sense is a lost art. And Marc Fisher shows that he does not have the fine art of Common Sense either.

Posted by: SmithOhio | February 1, 2006 12:33 PM

I can't tell if SmithOhio is parodying a stereotypical non-sensical, ranting blogger or if SmithOhio simply IS a stereotypical non-sensical, ranting blogger.
Either way, the mixed metaphors are stunning.

Posted by: DC101 | February 1, 2006 1:44 PM

On an absolute performance scale, Gov Kaine's speech was head and shoulders above the early 2000 smirking, barely coherent campaign appearanes of our glorious leader.

Posted by: Billboy | February 1, 2006 2:30 PM

The best recent example of bipartisanship was Clinton '94-98. Our government is at it's barely adequate best when both sides share power; compromise dilutes the input of the nutjobs on both sides. Witness the current idiocy of the House which is actively running away from badly-needed reform as fast as it can.

Posted by: Judge Crater | February 2, 2006 9:38 AM

For DC101,
Parodying - a literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work, for comic effect or ridicle.
Stereotypical - the word stereotype was invented by Firmin Didot in the world of printing, it was originally a duplicate impression of an original typographical element, used for printing instead of the original. Over time, this became a metaphor for any set of ideas repeated identically, with minor changes. In fact, clich'e and stereotype were both originally printers' words, and in their literal printers' meanings were synonymous.
Non-sensical - is an utterance or written text in what appears to be a human language or other symbolic system, that does not carry any indentifiable meaning.
Rant - to speak or write in a angry or violent manner.
Last, but not least. I do apoligize for writing my comments about Marc Fisher. But I do feel that if he is going to use negative tactics, they should be done in a constructive manner. In other words, look at the big picture, before he decides to write about an individual or group, in a negative manner. Lastly, I am impressed that I received such quick retaliation.

Posted by: SmithOhio | February 2, 2006 1:11 PM

Eastern liberal? Are you saying that because you can't say northeastern liberal? I suppose the perfect Democratic candidate would be from the west AND the deep south, which of course is impossible.

Not a sermon, just a thought.

Posted by: notogop | February 2, 2006 9:44 PM

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