Kaine and Obama sought to use the massive e-mail list and grass-roots movement assembled during the presidential campaign to pressure Congress to act on the president’s signature legislative initiatives, with debatable success. Obama’s first budget and his health-care law passed only by the barest of margins along strict partisan lines.
“For all the talk that Obama was changing the map with the grass-roots organization, that didn’t happen,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
After state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds failed to keep Virginia’s governorship in Democratic hands in 2009, Kaine criticized Deeds’s strategy, arguing that he should have worked to energize Democrats rather than distance himself from the president in pursuit of independent voters.
By sticking close to Obama now, Kaine is following his own advice to other Democrats. He could have turned down the chance to speak in Charlotte, and he could avoid appearing with Obama when the president visits Virginia, but he has not done so.
Kaine was originally dismissive of the idea that he might run the DNC, and he was widely believed to covet a Cabinet post, but changed his mind after entreaties from Obama. (Kaine appeared similarly hesitant to jump into the Senate contest last year but was again successfully lobbied by Obama.)
From the moment he became party chairman, Republicans suggested the position would divert Kaine’s attention from the more important job of governor. They also criticized Kaine for not releasing his full calendar, expecting it would show how much time he was traveling on DNC business. Kaine’s defenders noted that former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III pulled the same duty, serving as Republican National Committee chairman while in the statehouse (and Democrats criticized him for it at the time).
And Allen spent two years running the National Republican Senatorial Committee when he was in Congress.
For a year, Republicans have been hitting Kaine for his DNC service and his ties to Obama, saying those factors would make it difficult for him to pivot back to his moderate leanings. But there has been little sign in the polls that the criticism has eroded Kaine’s support.
Still, Rothenberg cautioned that Kaine has to contend with the fact that “part of his career has been as a party spokesman at a time when people don’t like professional politicians.”