Saturday, August 9, 2008

VP Profile: Tim Kaine

Age: 50
Current Position: Governor of Virginia
Former Positions of Importance:
  • Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, 2002-2006
  • Mayor of Richmond, Virginia, 1998-2000
Also someone who's been getting a lot of press in recent weeks. There was a period where he was regarded as the front runner; he's been replaced in that role Bayh Bayh, but Kaine is evidently still in the conversation. He's also someone who was pretty far below my radar until recently, so I'm sort of blind here. Forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive those who trespass against me.

Pros: Virginia, Virginia, Virginia and the lucky number 13. Virginia's voters haven't given the state's electoral votes to a Democrat since 1964, when Lyndon Johnson won just about everything.

And now the Obama folks think Virginia is vulnerable. The polls over at show a race that's so absurdly tight that "too close to call" is an understatement. Virginia's elected a bevvy of Democrats in recent years. Jim Webb beat Senator Macaca Allen in 2006, and the Democrats took control of the state senate in 2007.

Kaine was the first blast of that trumpet. He won the governor's chair in 2005 by six percentage points and by all accounts made dramatic inroads into traditionally Republican areas of Virginia while running up big margins in the Democratic regions.

Perhaps no one knows the state better than Kaine, and Obama's people must be salivating at the thought of dispatching the governor throughout Virginia to preach the gospel of Hope. You win Virginia, and you've pulled in 13 votes, two more than are at stake in Missouri, a traditional swing state. It would be roughly the equivalent of the Republicans picking off Massachusetts.

Kaine's a Spanish-speaking Catholic, a man who took a year off during law school to work as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras. For whatever reason Obama had crippling issues with Catholics in the primaries, and Kaine can speak to them. Kaine's faith is an important part of his life; there's no one Obama can choose who would help him more with those voters.

Cons: Kaine might come off as a blatant vote grab, a sign that Obama doesn't take governing as seriously as campaigning. The reality, of course, is that every presidential candidate chooses a vice president with political considerations in mind. Sometimes it's less a matter of targeting a particular state or region and more an issue of using the VP to assuage fears; Dick Cheney didn't bring any geographic appeal to the Bush ticket in 2000, but he was tabbed (by himself, to be sure) to lend weight and gravitas to the untested George W. Bush. But choosing the popular governor of a crucial swing state is rather blatantly political, especially considering...

Kaine has no experience of any consequence. Mayor of Richmond isn't an easy gig, but it's hard to keep a straight face while arguing that it prepares one to be vice president. Governor of Virginia is a legitimate resume entry, as the executive experience gained there could be vital. But Kaine has had that job for slightly more than two years. Again, there's nothing there Obama can point to in a press conference that will let him say, "Here's the reason Tim Kaine is qualified."

Kaine's devout Catholicism has fed some rather nuanced views on social issues. He's personally opposed to abortion, has a "faith-based" issue with it, but he has publicly repudiated efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade. He's against the death penalty, but during his time as governor he has overseen a handful of executions and has not moved to repeal the death penalty in his state.

Now, I don't find anything offensive about any of that (Kaine's a supporter of abstinence education, which does trouble me), but he doesn't have easily definable, standard liberal positions. Those Clinton women who remain disconnected from Obama aren't going to be thrilled with the idea of a VP who's opposed to abortion, even if he's generally stood behind Roe. And the death penalty stance might hurt the campaign with rural voters.

Verdict: I like him more than Bayh for a couple of reasons. First, I think Virginia is more vulnerable than Indiana, and let's be honest, if Obama picks either of these fellows it's because he's casting a covetous eye on their electoral votes. Second, Kaine doesn't have Bayh's troublesome history with the Iraq War.

But at the risk of repeating myself, I still slot him behind Joe Biden and Bill Richardson on my short list. There's nothing exciting or inspiring about him. He has precious little name recognition outside of Virginia and the political cognoscenti. On my list he's roughly even with Sebelius; she's a more exciting candidate, but he hales from a more important state.

Oh, and one of my commenters points out that Kaine is a graduate of an area school, Rockhurst High. That's kind of cool.

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