For Tim Kaine of Richmond, opportunity knocks.
Conventional wisdom says that Senator Jim Webb's announcement that he will not run for reelection next year is a boost to Republican George Allen's quest to retake his seat. But today's real winner is DNC Chairman and former Virginia governor Tim Kaine, who could very well find himself not just in the Senate, but the prohibitive frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
Yes, a lot has to happen between now and 2016. If a year is a political lifetime, five and a half years is an eternity. Nonetheless, a decision by Kaine to run for the Senate could be the single most important development in the 2016 presidential race.
Let's review some recent history. When Barack Obama was locked in an epic primary race with Hillary Clinton -- and most Democratic officials were begging neutrality, Tim Kaine was one of Obama's earliest and most loyal supporters. He was widely viewed as a close second in the Democratic veepstakes.
After squeaking into the Virginia governorship in 2005, Kaine left office in January 2010 with extremely high ratings. If Virginia didn't have a quirky one-term rule for the governorship, he would have sailed to reelection. Just as important for a presidential primary campaign, he managed to maintain his core progressive principles in a conservative state.
After the 2008 campaign, Kaine remained loyal to President Obama, serving as DNC Chairman and the party's leading cheerleader for the administration. In that role, he's managed the tricky task of retaining his outside-the-beltway appeal even while holding the most insider of jobs. And, he can claim ownership of the DNC's massive fundraising rolodex.
Kaine, just 52, has a long career in politics ahead of him if he chooses to. Should he run for the Senate, he'd face a tough challenge from the polished and well-funded Allen. But Allen's never been overly popular in Virginia, and Kaine would be in a strong position to retain the seat for Democrats.
Once elected, a sure sign of 2016 aspirations will be if Kaine lands a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee. With four years as governor of a deep-purple state, a term as DNC Chairman and another four years in the Senate where he can burnish his foreign policy credentials, Kaine would be a heavyweight in a primary field that's unlikely to include Vice President Biden or Secretary Clinton.
Most encouraging for Kaine's presidential chances, he's a natural heir to the Obama political machine. For the past two years, the President's campaign team has been an extension of the DNC. No one's better tapped into the Obama campaign than Kaine. And, after eight years of Obama, his folksy, low-key style might be just what the country wants.
Sure, this is pure prognostication. My crystal ball isn't any clearer than anyone else's. But if you're already growing tired of the 2012 storyline and cast of characters, keep an eye on Kaine.
David Meadvin is president of Inkwell Strategies, a Washington, DC-based speechwriting and communications firm. He was chief speechwriter for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.