The Case for Tim Kaine
Once the hottest hotbed of potential vice presidential picks, Virginia has quickly lost its luster in the veepstakes as former governor Mark Warner and Sen. Jim Webb have both removed themselves from consideration over the last month.
And yet, the one Virginian who remains in the vice presidential pool -- Gov. Tim Kaine -- may well have an inside shot at being the ultimate choice of Barack Obama later this summer. (Tune in to The Fix on Friday for our latest Vice Presidential Line to see where Kaine ranks.)
Today we make the case for Kaine as vice president; tomorrow we make the opposite argument.
Victory in Virginia
Talk to any Democratic political operative about the party's chances of winning Virginia in the fall and you will get a far less rosy assessment than is currently floating around among party activists.
There's a reason, they argue, that no Democratic presidential nominee has won the Commonwealth since 1964 and, no matter how much growth has occurred in the northern Virginia suburbs, it doesn't make up for the genuinely conservative bent of voters in the rest of the state.
Even former governor Mark Warner, who won the governorship in 2001 and is a strong favorite to claim an open Senate seat this fall, was careful not to predict victory for Obama in the Commonwealth this fall -- saying only that the contest will be highly competitive. (Of John McCain, Warner said: "[He] will run strong in Virginia with his strong veterans vote."
Many within the party believe that the only way that Virginia and its
11 13 electoral votes are truly up for grabs is if Obama chooses a native son of the Commonwealth as his running mate. With Warner and Webb seemingly out of the picture, that mantle falls to Kaine who, until recently, had lived in the long shadow of the former governor.
While many even within Kaine's inner circle acknowledge that his election as governor in 2005 was due in large part to the enormous popularity of Warner, they believe that Kaine has done plenty since then to prove his political chops.
In 2007, Kaine spearheaded the Democratic takeover of the Virginia state Senate, the first time in more than a decade that Democrats controlled the upper chamber in the legislature.
Then, earlier this year, he activated his political network on behalf of Obama in the Feb. 12 Virginia primary -- a contest the Illinois Senator won by a massive 64 percent to 35 percent margin over Hillary Rodham Clinton.
If Obama truly envisions a new electoral map -- that includes Virginia -- Kaine may the the only person left in the running who has the potential to deliver the Commonwealth to Democrats this fall.
Faith as a Fundamental
The central narrative that emerged during Kaine's successful gubernatorial race in 2005 was that he was a Democrat who spoke freely and regularly about his faith.
In that race, Kaine was seeking to become the first Catholic ever elected governor of the Commonwealth and, rather than run from his religion, he put it front and center.
"I'm a person of faith, and here's who I am, and you're entitled to know who I am because you ought to know about me, what's important to me," Kaine told the Washington Post's Carlyle Murphy in October 2005. "That'll give you a yardstick for judging my actions."
There was action behind Kaine's rhetoric. He has served as a Catholic missionary in Honduras during the early 1980s and in his run for governor had to withstand a withering onslaught from Republicans about his personal opposition to the death penalty -- a fundamental tenet of the Catholic church.
In office too, Kaine has shown an ability to speak forcefully about his personal religious convictions in the political sphere.
The most powerful evidence of that ability was revealed in the aftermath of the school shootings last year at Virginia Tech University. Kaine not only delivered a moving speech at the school's convocation just days after the April 16 shootings but also appeared later that week on Rev. Robert Schuller's "Hour of Power" -- a widely watched program among evangelicals nationwide.
Schuller, a massive figure in the evangelical community, interrupted Kaine in the middle of his remarks to say: "Governor, I want to tell you that I am a specialist in sensing and seeing Christ coming through personalities and lives and voices, and I see Him in your eyes and I thank you that you are allowing, without embarrassment, your faith to come through."
That is EXTREMELY powerful stuff -- especially when you think of the massive edge Republicans have enjoyed among evangelical voters in recent national elections.
That's not to say Kaine's faith would win over evangelicals for Obama but it would show many religious-minded people -- a group Democrats have struggled badly with in recent years -- that they can find a home in the Democratic party just as easily as the Republican party.
And, while no Democrats are likely to acknowledge it publicly, putting someone as closely identified with Christian faith on the ticket could help dampen the persistent rumors of Obama as Muslim.
During his primary fight with Clinton, Obama had real trouble winning the Hispanic vote. In the California primary on Feb. 5, Clinton took well more than 60 percent of the vote among Hispanics who made up one in three of all voters; in the Puerto Rico primary in early June, Clinton crushed Obama 62 percent to 38 percent.
Combine those struggles by Obama with McCain's roots in the west -- a hotbed of growth in the Hispanic population -- and the Arizona senator's clear intent to make a play for the Latino vote in the fall and Democrats may well be looking for someone who can speak effectively to that crucial voting bloc.
Enter Kaine. Not only did he serve as a missionary in central America, he also speaks fluent Spanish.
With the Hispanic vote considered crucial in any number of battleground states -- Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado among others -- Kaine would be an attractive ticket mate for Obama
Keep Your Friends Close
People like The Fix often make politics more complicated than it really is. Politics, like nearly everything else in life, is first and foremost about relationships.
So, when thinking about who Obama (or McCain) will ultimately pick, it's important to always remember that relationships matter.
And, by all accounts, Kaine and Obama are as close as two politicians can be. The two men met when Obama, fresh off his speech at the Democratic National Convention and subsequent victory that November, campaigned for Kaine in 2005.
The two men formed an instant bond -- both had roots in small-town Kansas, both had attended Harvard Law School, both spent considerable time in the private sector before entering politics.
Kaine showed what that friendship meant when, in February 2007, he threw his endorsement to Obama -- one of the first major elected officials to do so.
"Senator Obama is just in a completely different category than anybody I've ever stood on a stage with," Kaine said in the late Janaury 2007 interview with Post editors and reporters. "There is just a feeling of, you know, kind of a projection of hope on him from an audience that is just unreal. It's unreal."
Obama, too, has an obvious fondness for Kaine. At an event kicking off his general election campaign in Bristow, Va., Obama said of Kaine: "When you're in the political business, there are a lot of people who are your allies, there are a lot of people who you've got to do business with, but you don't always have a lot of friends. The governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia is my friend."
Friendship alone will not lead Obama to name Kaine as his running mate. But, given the Virginia governor's other strengths, the fact that he and Obama are personal friends certainly doesn't hurt.
As always, this piece is meant to spark conversation, so agree, disagree, condemn or compliment in the comments section below. (Looking for past "case for/case against" pieces? You can find them in the "Veepstakes" category.)
Tomorrow: The case against Kaine.
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