Kaine tells enthusiastic Virginia Democrats he needs more time
Hundreds of Democrats from across Virginia descended on the capital city Saturday night to raise money for the state party, catch up with longtime friends and, of course, speculate about who might run for U.S. Senate next year.
The state party's biggest fundraiser of the year turned into a guessing game as activists contemplated who among their party might run to replace U.S. Sen. Jim Webb in one of the most-closely watched Senate races of 2012.
Timothy M. Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Virginia governor and possible candidate, was greeted by enthusiastic crowds of activists in his hometown by those wanting him to run. Numerous party leaders, including U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner and the state's congressmen, urged him from the stage to jump into the race.
But after consulting with President Obama and being encouraged to run by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both of Virginia's senators and countless state officials, he was flattered by the interest but not ready to make an announcement.
"We're spending some time reflecting about it," Kaine told the crowd. "And I'm going to make to make a decision soon about whether I can best serve the Commonwealth as senator or as chairman of the party."
A few voices from the crowd shouted "Run, Tim, Run!"
"Whatever decision I make, I'm confident the next senator from Virginia will be a Democrat," he said.
About 1,500 activists from across the state attended the black-tie Jefferson-Jackson dinner at the Greater Richmond Convention Center as they look to rebound after two years of losses. All 140 legislators are up for reelection this year.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the new chairman of the Democratic Governors Association who was reelected in November, was the keynote speaker.
In his speech, O'Malley repeated a call to continue to invest in education and infrastructure while governing in a fiscally responsible way. He took a few shots at his Republican counterparts.
"The tea partying Republican Governors live in a different world than ours," O'Malley said. "They would have us believe that we can somehow just cut our way to a better future - no need to invest in education, no need to invest in infrastructure."
Defeated Virginia congressmen Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello will join their former colleagues, including Reps. Gerry Connolly, Jim Moran and Bobby Scott, at the dinner. Both Webb and Warner were absent, but sent video greetings. Webb was in Japan. Warner was on a long planned family trip.
Terry McAuliffe, a 2009 gubernatorial candidate looking to make another run at the governor's mansion in 2013, attended with two electric cars for show. Standing beside one of the cars, McAuliffe said the Democrats would "easily keep" the Senate seat no matter who runs but ruled himself out as a candidate.
Perriello, who ran a fiesty but unsuccessful campaign for reelection in November in which he was unapologetic in his support for Democratic policies, was the clear choice of many of the grassroots activists attending the event.
A number wore "Perriello for Senate" stickers, and dinner attendees were greeted by a knot of young Perriello supporters urging them to sign a "Draft Perriello" petition. Others in the party privately argue that his profile is too liberal and his name not known well enough statewide to win.
Perriello said he was flattered by the enthusiasm of the activists who wanted him to run for Senate, but he also said that he spoke privately with Kaine Saturday and encouraged Kaine to run. "I think he's going to think and pray on it,'' he said. "I hope he'll jump in."
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said Webb's retirement will make it easier for Republicans to pick up Virginia's second U.S. Senate seat.
Former senator George Allen, who lost the seat in 2006 to Webb, and tea party leader Jamie Radtke are both running for the GOP nomination. Several Republicans are considering a run.
"I certainly think in Virginia that we've shown in 2009 and 2010, it's not only a competitive state, but it's back to being a right-of-center state,'' McDonnell said. "I think it was already going to be a target for Republican supporters and donors I think it probably intensifies now with an open seat."
Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman
| February 19, 2011; 9:39 PM ET
Categories: Anita Kumar, Barack Obama, George F. Allen, James P. Moran Jr., James Webb, Mark Warner, Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman, Terry McAuliffe, Timothy M. Kaine, Tom Perriello
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