Let me be clear up front. I'm a Tim Kaine guy.
As someone who has been involved in Virginia politics for over ten years, and in national politics for fifteen, I can honestly say that working on Tim Kaine's 2005 campaign for Governor was one of the most exciting and fulfilling years of both my personal and professional life. He is a great guy and a great friend. He was a great Governor. He's a great DNC Chair.
And he'd make a great United States Senator.
The Senate needs more people like Tim Kaine. He knows how to bring people together to get things done. He knows how to reach across the aisle to work with others, without compromising his core principles. He's fiscally responsible, having led the state through the worst economic crisis since the 1930s while maintaining unemployment far below the national average, leaving his successor with a budget surplus, and is the only Virginia Governor in recent history to leave office with a smaller state budget than when he started. On his watch, Virginia was ranked the best-managed state in the nation, best state for business, and best state in which to raise a child. Those are pretty strong credentials to take to the Senate.
I know Governor Kaine well enough to know that he's giving this decision all due consideration. I'm sure he's talking it over with close friends and supporters as he figures out what to do. For him, this decision is based on personal calculations, not political -- is this the best way for him to continue his service to the people of Virginia and the nation?
If he decides to run, I believe Tim Kaine would win.
But I also believe he's not the only Democrat who can win.
If Governor Kaine doesn't run, there are a number of people that could mount winning campaigns. Congressman Gerry Connolly, State Senator Chap Petersen, former DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe and former Congressman Tom Perriello have all been mentioned as potential candidates.
As of right now, Perriello seems to be mentioned most often as a strong contender. I agree that he would be. Here's why I think he can win.
A divisive Republican primary. Contrary to conventional wisdom, former Senator George Allen is NOT the Republican nominee. He's got to go through a contentious primary against Jamie Radtke, a former staffer of his and Virginia Tea Party leader. This is no minor threat, and Allen knows it. That's why establishment Republicans abandoned their party's long tradition of a nominating convention in favor of a primary. Allen is going to have to run pretty hard to the right to placate the Tea Party crowd (which says a lot considering how far to the right he already is). And Virginians tend not to like far-right candidates for statewide office. (Don't get me wrong -- I pray that George Allen is the nominee! He gives us plenty of material to run against!)
George Allen is part of what was wrong in Washington. If George Allen DOES win the Republican primary, he's got a very shaky record to run on. When he entered the Senate in 2001, the United States was enjoying one of the longest periods of economic growth in history and we had a budget surplus. But time and time again he voted for the Bush policies that led to our current economic meltdown and budget deficit. He supported the Bush approach to Iraq. He voted for billions of dollars in tax breaks and giveaways to the wealthiest Americans, the oil industry, banks... I could go on and on. And not much needs to be said about how polarizing of a figure he was. At a time when people are looking for elected officials that will work together to get results, get our economy going and cut the deficit, George Allen has no credibility.
Perriello is a fighter. Anyone who has ever seen Tom Perriello campaign knows that this is a guy who doesn't get rolled. He will campaign hard, reaching out for every vote. And there is absolutely no chance that he'll ever get "swift boated." (And yes, that is a reference to Chris LaCivita, Allen's long time strategist and the guy who came up with the swift boat attack on John Kerry.) Tom has a strong moral compass and will not allow himself to be put on the defensive -- he'll take the argument right to the Republican nominee and force them to explain why they support policies that will devastate our economy.
Perriello can raise money. Tom impressed a lot of people with his 2010 campaign. Unlike some Democrats who cowered in the corner when they saw the national wave coming, Tom stood up and talked about his record. Yes, he lost. But not by much. In his conservative district, that was impressive. A lot of people in Virginia and across the country remember Tom Perriello as a guy who never stopped fighting for what's right -- and they would be excited to invest in his Senate campaign.
Virginia still trends purple. From 2001 through 2008, Democrats showed repeatedly that they can win in Virginia. In 2009 and 2010, Republicans began to fight back. But the results, and recent population trends, show that the key areas of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads are very much up for grabs. Many voters in those two areas have no allegiance to either candidate or either party. (There are many new voters who have never even seen George Allen's name on a ballot before!) The candidate who can best communicate their message to those voters will win.
Barack Obama will be on the ballot. This is all-upside for the Democrats. Tom Perriello and Barack Obama both won in 2008 with very similar coalitions. With Obama on the ticket in 2012 helping to energize folks and increase turnout, Perriello only benefits -- and allows him to spend even more time talking to those pivotal swing voters that are up for grabs.
I could write a similar piece about any of the potential candidates mentioned above. The Democratic bench in Virginia is deeper than a lot of people realize.
Don't get me wrong -- this won't be an easy race. Virginia will be a battleground for both the United States Senate, and the state's presidential electoral votes. And while I'm excited about the potential of a Tim Kaine candidacy, Virginia's Democrats have every reason to be bullish regardless of whether or not he runs.
Mo Elleithee is a veteran national Democratic communications strategist. He's worked for numerous Virginia statewide candidates over the past ten years including Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, and Chuck Robb.
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