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The Case Against Tim Kaine

Yesterday we made the case for why Barack Obama should pick Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as his vice presidential running mate in the fall.

Today, we tackle the opposite argument.

VP Watch

Foreign Policy Foreign

Kaine's record of service on domestic issues as the mayor of Richmond, lieutenant governor and now governor of the Commonwealth is hard to argue with.

But, that experience carries nothing more than a tinge of foreign policy -- a potentially disqualifying credential when Obama's relative dearth of policy experience abroad is also factored in.

Kaine backers note that he has traveled abroad regularly during his term as governor, but a trip to promote international business relocating to the Commonwealth (as Vokswagen recently did) or making a trip to Iraq to visit Virginians (as he did in the spring of 2006) is not the same as dealing with major foreign policy questions as an elected official.

John McCain has made no pretense that he is running -- almost exclusively -- on a resume, both in and out of office, filled with foreign policy know-how.

This excerpt, taken from a speech McCain delivered earlier this year, sums up how the Arizona senator sees the choice between himself and Obama:

"I can honestly say, I have prepared my entire life for this moment. In uniform and in office, in war and peace, I have learned how to lead a nation at war. I know how to keep us safe. I have been involved in every major national security challenge of our time. I have met and taken the measure of the world's leaders; those who are our friends and those who are not. I understand the capabilities, the needs and the sacrifices of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces better than any other candidate in this race."

Given McCain's intent to turn the race into a referendum on who is ready to lead at a very dangerous time in the world, it could be seen as Obama tempting fate if he picked Kaine, a one-term governor with no serious foreign policy credentials, as his second in command.

Military Minus

Serving in the military is no longer the requirement for national office that it once was, but when running against a decorated military veteran who plans to put his time spent in a North Vietnamese prison camp at the center of his campaign, many Democrats believe Obama, who hasn't served himself, would do well to pick a military man (or woman) as a his running mate.

That's not Kaine who, at 50 years old, wasn't even a teenager during the height of the Vietnam War. (Obama, born in 1961, wasn't even that old.)

Many Democratic strategists remain wary of being painted as doves on foreign policy (the ghosts of Vietnam remain) and don't believe that a presidential and vice presidential nominee who have not served in the military can stand up to McCain when he says, as he does frequently, that "I hold my position [on Iraq] because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are."

One counter argument: Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) won the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination based in large part on the presumption that his status as a decorated Vietnam veteran would insulate the party from charges that it was soft on defense and national security. That theory wound up backfiring.

Death Penalty Debate

During the 2005 gubernatorial race, Republicans believed that Kaine's opposition to the death penalty -- a stance rooted in his Catholic faith -- was the silver bullet that would lead to his defeat.

In an ad entitled "Stanley" a man whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered said that Kaine "voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son" (Kaine denied that fact) and went on to note that Kaine opposed the death penalty even for Adolph Hitler.

The ad created a HUGE furor, which ultimately redounded against former state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R) whose campaign sponsored the ad.

But, while Virginia Republicans may have gone overboard in trying to exploit Kaine's opposition to the death penalty as an issue, it would almost certainly come up again in the context of a national campaign with Republicans using the issue as code for the Democratic ticket being soft on crime.

Polling suggests it would find some receptivity among voters. In an ABC News/Facebook survey conducted in December 2007, nearly two-thirds of the national sample said they favored the death penalty for people convicted of murder while 30 percent said they opposed it.

Kaine's position then -- despite the fact it is rooted in a religious conviction -- puts him on the wrong side of an emotional issue that has been used before as a wedge in presidential elections.

Tested and Ready?

No one-term governor gets that many chances in the national spotlight. And so, you have to make the most of every one.

Kaine's big moment came in early 2006 when he was tapped by the national party to deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union address. (Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, another Democratic vice presidential hopeful, delivered the 2007 SOTU response.)

Kaine, who is generally regarded as an able speaker, drew tough reviews from critics who said he looked nervous and halting to those who wondered about his trademark eyebrow arch. (For the record, we are pro-eyebrow arch -- if you smeeeeeeeell what The Fix is cooking.)

Kaine's badly-reviewed performance may give some vetters pause who wonder whether a man who was elected governor just three years ago is ready to stare into the klieg lights of the national stage and perform.

Agree? Disagree? What did we miss in making the case against Kaine? Feel free to offer your thoughts in the comments section. And, for other "case for/case against" posts, check out our "veepstakes" section.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 10, 2008; 1:20 PM ET
Categories:  Veepstakes  
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Posted by: 37th&OStreet

What are you going to do in November? You sound so bitter and angry. The idea that JJ's stupid comment was engineered by the Obama camoaign is absurd. Are you on hate meds or something? This is the most idiotic, moronic statement I have heard so far today.

Posted by: Demgrl | July 16, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

"1) Kaine still has one more year in office. The Lt. Governor is Republican. Why hand over his last year of office to a republican.

2) Virginia will be electing a new governor in 2009. In the event that Obama wins, why would the dems hand over the keys to governor's mansion to a republican lt. governor in an election year? Especially considering that the attorney general (who is also a republican) is already running."

It's one year of the governor's office, in exchange for being vice president (or, if he loses, he's still governor), and thus, more or less the de facto Dem nominee in a few years, which I'm sure would make Virginia Democrats ecstatic (there hasn't been a Virginian in office since Wilson, and he was a New Jersey politician at that point; the last Virginia politician to hold the office was John Tyler).

Moreover, the last thing you mention could potentially lead to a Republican primary fight between the Lt. Gov-turned Gov and the heretofore presumptive nominee.

Posted by: SC | July 15, 2008 10:09 PM | Report abuse

1. Reagan won the Presidency as a former actor and governor (not exactly foreign policy credentials) while Americans were being held hostage in Tehran and the Soviets were still firmly entrenched behind the Iron Curtain. Granted, Bush had plenty of foreign policy experience, but Bush was placed on the ticket to mollify traditional Republicans who were justifiably leery of Reagan. No matter how much McCain wants it to be the center of the debate, foreign policy will not be the Republican's silver bullet.

2. Kaine is not opposed to the death penalty because he is a long-haired hippie freak. He is opposed for the same reason the Pope is opposed: thou shalt not kill. There is no way you can make Kaine's opposition to the death penalty an issue without also making an issue out of his religious conservatism. Considering McCain's problems in this area with evangelical Republicans, how exactly are they going to attack the ticket? Those Democrats are too religiously pious? Is the Republican goal to see if they can lose all 50 states?

3. It would be nice to have a polished veep candidate from the get go, but he'll get better with time and other than the one VP debate, no one ever really sees him speak.

4. You can't out-military McCain. It's pointless to even try.

I still think Kaine is the best candidate the Fix has highlighted so far. I would prefer Dodd or Richardson, but I don't get to pick.

Posted by: muD | July 11, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

DEE: I agree with you. I can't vote but I favor Clinton or Rendell. I kind of considered Kaine the sop to the conservatives. Reading this, I kind of like the guy.

The elements which suggest to Chris that Kaine would not help Obama much -- his anti-war stance and commutation of one death sentence -- are exactly why I wouldn't mind Kaine.

I'd say it's partly Chris's own personal ideology, party the Beltway bubble's love of McCain, and partly the MSM's overarching need to always find a comfortable "middle" and stay there.

They've convinced themselves that McCain, a man far to George W. Bush's right, is somehow a maverick just so they can square the circle on this.

The case agaisnt Clinton? "Baggage". The case against Rendell? "Too partisan and 'urban.'" Sounds like they wanted Webb and are willing to settle with Bayh or Sibelius for Obama.

On the Republican side, I think the insiders are comfortable with this Pawlenty character because they know that Romney and Huckabee make McCain look like the crass, vulgar, brain-dead pig he is by comparison.

Posted by: DexterManley | July 11, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I was expecting a much stronger case against Tim Kaine for VP. You make him sound pretty good here, Chris.

I think the American people are not buying the idea that military service is a prerequisite qualification for the presidency. McCain is trying to push that line, but it isn't sticking, largely because he is unable to make a plausible connection between his experiences in Vietnam and his competancies for the highest office in our nation.

McCain has demonstrated repeatedly this year that he lacks even the most rudimentary foreign policy experience or international insights: has he yet figured out the difference between Shiites and Sunnis? Just yesterday he resorts to a lame and unfunny "joke" about sending the odious Phil Gramm off to be Ambassador in Belarus.

John ("Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran") McCain has zero foreign policy credentials and having been a fighter pilot in Vietnam does not confer any upon him.

Posted by: dee | July 11, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse


It is pathetic.

The purpose of this pathetic exercise is to attempt to convince people that Jesse Jackson is a radical black leader and somehow Obama is a moderate black person and therefor OK, when actually that is a complete lie.

If anything, Jesse Jackson is the more moderate of the two by far.

This is unbelievable. Throw Jesse Jackson under the bus why don't you. Obama is a pathetic little liar who will do anything and say anything to lie to people and deceive them into voting for him.

Is this a post-racial candidate?

What bothers me about Obama is not that he is black but that he reminds me of Bill Clinton. Some guy skating by, lying his way through women, wine and politics. Seriously folks, if Obama came to you for a job interview, wouldn't you cut it short and thank him for his time? Obama is a worthless pathetic lying flip-flopping Empty Suit Slimy Fish. It is amazing how bad the people coming out of affirmative actions programs are - however if one draws conclusions from Obama, affirmative action is a complete failure - having produced the weakest set of people since the 1962 Mets. Obama and his team are so bad, it is difficult to find a proper analogy.


Posted by: 37th&OStreet | July 10, 2008 11:43 PM | Report abuse

Man, I am so freaking tired of the "McCain as War Hero" narrative. He is quoted as saying "I know how to keep us safe" yet he couldn't even keep himself safe - he was shot down, his mission was a failure! He accomplished nothing other than surviving the Hanoi Hilton - which others did just as well and with a hell of a lot less fanfare (probably because they don't feel compelled to mention it to everybody they meet, unlike McCain). Without his "war hero" status, he's just another survivor of the Keating scandal.

Posted by: Music Lover | July 10, 2008 11:18 PM | Report abuse


I'd like to see you ante up with another Veepstakes Line and show us your cards on who's most likely to get the VP nod.

I don't see Kaine as top tier at this point. I think Obama probably has a good shot at Virginia with or without Kaine. Removing him puts a Republican in power as governor, which could actually tick off Virginia Democrats.

My Final Four picks:

1. Joe Biden--only negatives are his mouth and his sometimes awkward comments about Obama himself (first "clean" Af. American; and feeling like he would NEED to say yes to VP since he's the first black candidate--all somewhat politically incorrect). His negatives in this case may actually help him connect with Joe Sixpack, who Obama doesn't naturally relate to. If Obama can get along with someone who says politically incorrect things like Joe Sixpack does, maybe he's not so bad. Biden of course reassures everyone on nat'l security and experience. Only additional negative is Biden is up for reelection and VP announcement would have to come sooner rather than later for Delaware Democrats to get their act together, unless Biden still runs and governor appoints someone else after the election if Obama-Biden get elected. Either way, Delaware would be a safe bet for another Democrat to get Biden's seat.

2. Evan Bayh--I've wrote elsewhere about some info I found about taking you to That may or may not mean anything. I think the owner of a URL can point their site to another site. But, some reporting shows the same person who purchased Obama's site also purchased this site. Hmmm. Not sure of accuracy, but could probably be checked. But Bayh has a huge resume (more than Richardson ever did). Congressman, governor, senator, intelligence and armed services committee, as well as banking and housing committees for a little economic porfolio--can you say housing crisis? Connects with middle class/working class. Safe pick. Potentially smart pick. Along the lines of a Clinton-Gore ticket. Also in well with the Clintons so could help heal wounds there. Only danger is removing him from the Senate and losing the seat inevitably--a president Obama could rue the loss of a senate seat.

3. Hillary Clinton--I had completely ruled her out, but she probably deserves to make the top 3 if for no other reason than to unite the party. That's not a done deal yet. I still think she doesn't have that much experience, despite the fact that she ran on 30 (or was it 35?) years of experience. I'm 37. Can I run on 37 years of experience in writing this blog entry?

4. Jack Reed--He's a dark horse, but would address the national security stuff. They seem to get along well. He's boring, but Obama doesn't need exciting. Cheney wasn't exciting. The difference is that Reed is a dark horse, not the Dark Lord of the Sith. Finally, Reed comes from a state that could fill his seat with another Democrat. Small chance of a lost seat.

Posted by: MNobserver | July 10, 2008 9:37 PM | Report abuse

I think Kaine has actually had two moments in the National Spotlight: SOTU response, and Virginia Tech response.

Interesting criticisms against him. It is bizarre that serving in a war is so important all of a sudden. It didn't seem to stop Bush/Cheney in 2004 (their war experience was sending others to Iraq).

However, if Kaine is picked I think it is a clear sign that Obama sees the winning of the election as VA/NC. It will be very much a regional play, and also a Christian outreach play.

Posted by: JayPe | July 10, 2008 8:20 PM | Report abuse

As a Virginia, I do not know why Kaine would on the shortlist. He really has done nothing for us. We had a balanced budget, now we have a deficit. I wish Mark Warner could have stayed in office. I would like to add that Jerry Kilgore was a subpar candidate. I never did understand why the Reps ran him. There was no way he would win. It's kind of like Obama running for the state senate against Alan Keyes. A rock could have beaten Alan Keyes.....Both Obama and Kaine lucked out, that's the facts..

Posted by: Dawn | July 10, 2008 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Kaine would be a bad choice. Interesting that commenter "Blarg" below considers the bad SOTU response the only real issue -- that's exactly the one that I consider marginal. But lack of military service or foreign policy experience, youth and fairly limited experience (though more than Obama), and liberal position on hot-button issue that allows GOP to paint his as a lefty -- those add up to all the exact same problems Obama has. Where's the balance (other than geography)? Forget it.

Posted by: Joey | July 10, 2008 5:50 PM | Report abuse

As a resident of the Old Dominion, I'm at a loss to understand whey anyone is even discussing Kaine as VP material. The guy is nice enough and I don't quarrel with that many of his political positions, but he's not really been a trailblazer or a mover and shaker. We had the transportation funding debacle -- where the Commonwealth's supreme court struck down the law and Kaine seemed to be caught entirely flat-footed. A great leader would not have taken the state through that trauma; a visionary would have effectively warned against the plan. Just this week, the state legislature again failed to come up with a transportation funding plan. Where's the charm, persuasiveness, cleverness and ability to reach across the aisle that these challenges require? Kaine simply doesn't have it. And, as you note, he got off to a poor start with the rather-embarrassing response to the state of the union address. Every Virginia governor seems to be perceived as greatness personified -- probably because they each only get one term, and the honeymoon period is hardly over before the next one is inaugurated.

Posted by: Virginian | July 10, 2008 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I refer back to a comment I left on another article...see below

Tim Kaine WILL NOT be the V.P. Think about it:

1) Kaine still has one more year in office. The Lt. Governor is Republican. Why hand over his last year of office to a republican.

2) Virginia will be electing a new governor in 2009. In the event that Obama wins, why would the dems hand over the keys to governor's mansion to a republican lt. governor in an election year? Especially considering that the attorney general (who is also a republican) is already running.

Chris, please take Tim Kaine off your short list. It's not happening

Posted by: dordson | July 10, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Tim Kaine is a nice guy who has accomplished next to none of his agenda as governor. Whether you agree with his agenda or not, it is inarguable that he has had very few legislative successes. Actually, none that I can think of, but I'll be charitable and say very few.

Obama, on the other hand, has achieved nothing as a legislator. If Obama does not want to get upstaged by his VP choice, it might make sense to select someone who has accomplished next to nothing.

In fact, if Obama/Kaine won, I would be more than happy if they continued their inability to enact their agenda in the White House.

Posted by: OldTown | July 10, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

The case against Tim Kaine should be that he is not Chuck Hagel. Senator Hagel has every low point of Kaine covered and most of the high points as well (except the close relationship with Obama).

Chuck Hagel for VP!

Posted by: Tyson | July 10, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

In 1992, the little-known Governor of Arkansas ran for President against the incumbent. The incumbent was a war hero -- a naval aviator who had been shot down -- and had a wealth of foreign policy experience (CIA director, VPOTUS, UN ambassador), and had first-hand experience on how to be POTUS. However, the economy was in a recession and GHWB had alienated some of his conservative base ("no new taxes").

WJC ran as a "change" agent and had no military or foreign policy experience. But he chose not to pick a conventional running mate, instead opting for AlGore, someone who shared WJC's moderate political views, was "young", and seemed to get along with WHC. In addition to buttressing the Southern votes, AlGore shored up WJC's deficiencies in "family values" (Tipper v. Gennifer Flowers, et al.) and environmental policy. AlGore also served as a journalist in the Army while WJC was not inhaling at Oxford.

All this is to say that "conventional wisdom" is not necessarily the wisest course to follow when choosing a running mate -- or even how to run for POTUS.

And, Chris, "Volkswagen" has an "L" in it.

Posted by: mnteng | July 10, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

The case for and against Kaine seems to be saying: he'd be a safe but uninspiring pick.
Posted by: bsimon | July 10, 2008 2:29 PM

I disagree that Kaine is a safe pick. If Obama selected Kaine the Democratic ticket would be void of military experience. That flies in the face of how the "teams" are normally formed. And particularly this cycle when McCain is trying his best to make foriegn policy a large issue; going totally away from that would be a major departure.

Posted by: JNoel002 | July 10, 2008 2:52 PM | Report abuse

As an anti-Obama voter, nothing would make me happier than to see the bland Kaine as a VP choice.

I guess if Obama is looking for someone who has less experience than he does in order to make himself look seasoned- (there's probably not many out there) Kaine comes close to fitting the bill.

Posted by: GOPLAND | July 10, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

The case for and against Kaine seems to be saying: he'd be a safe but uninspiring pick. No real flaws, but doesn't bring a lot to the table either. That would make him the John Edwards of 2008: a better pick than Quayle or Lieberman, but not in the league of Gore, Cheney, Kemp, Bentsen or GHW Bush.

Posted by: bsimon | July 10, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

He's a wonderful guy, but no one can point to a single significant legislative achievement. The special session he called for the General Assembly to consider new revenue for transportation has been a failure.

Not exactly the way you want to head into the convention.

Posted by: brentb52 | July 10, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I'd say the biggest problem with Kaine as a nominee is his pro-life stance, something that could really hurt his chances as a nominee with Obama (especially since the campaign has been accused of drifting to the right recently).

Posted by: Nico Savidge | July 10, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse

That's a pretty weak case against Kaine. No candidate is going to have every type of useful experience (executive, business, foreign policy, military, etc.), so Kaine is hardly alone in that flaw. The death penalty hasn't been a major issue in several election cycles; can you imagine anyone voting against Obama because his VP opposes the death penalty?

The last issue is the only one which has any merit, and I still think it's weak. Kaine has an adequate amount of experience as governor, Lt. Gov, and mayor. If his one national speech was poorly-received, that's a problem, but a minor one.

Based solely on these two posts, I'd say Kaine is a solid VP choice.

Posted by: Blarg | July 10, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

As a Democrat -- and somebody who voted for Kaine -- I'm flabbergasted that he's anywhere NEAR the list for V.P. He's been an OK governor; he's a nice enough guy. But VP timber? Please. There's no THERE there.

Posted by: TMU | July 10, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Great post as always.

One detail: the State of the Union rebutall in 2007 was done by Kaine's fellow Virginian Jim Webb. Gov. Sibelius did the rebuttal this year.

Posted by: Jonas | July 10, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

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