His announcement ends a waiting game that began when Webb (D) said in February that he would not run for a second term. On the Republican side, former senator and governor George Allen and Jamie Radtke, the former chairwoman of the Federation of Virginia Tea Party Patriots, are running.
The commonwealth is one of a handful of competitive states that could decide control of the Senate in 2012, when Democrats must defend 23 seats and Republicans must defend 10.
“Virginia is the kind of race that Democrats need to win in order to hold the majority,” said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
The fight for Webb’s seat will rage on a battlefield that has changed significantly since Allen and Kaine held office.
The last time Allen won a campaign — his 2000 Senate race — Virginia was less affluent, more ethnically homogenous and more firmly in the Republican camp. In the ensuing decade, the state’s population and economic might have increasingly shifted to Northern Virginia, which is home to thousands of newcomers.
And the contest will be expensive: Based on recent campaigns, Kaine and Allen, his likeliest Republican opponent, will probably spend more than $20 million combined.
Battle lines drawn
Kaine had previously suggested that he wasn’t interested in running for Senate. He was lobbied by senior Democrats in Virginia and across the country, most conspicuously by President Obama, a friend and political ally.
Obama, who defied recent history by winning Virginia in 2008, is likely to make the state a central front in his reelection effort in 2012, and each man hopes that the other’s presence on the ticket will help him win.
Democrats have done well in recent years in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, and Republicans remain stronger in the central and southern portions of the state. Exurban counties such as Loudoun and Prince William — both of which are growing rapidly — have been the most hotly contested.
Kaine is the only Democrat to officially announce a Senate campaign, with most others in the state saying they would defer to him. The exception is Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, who has said he would decide on a Senate bid by July.
Because Kaine’s decision has been widely expected — especially since he told a University of Richmond law school class last month that he was “increasingly likely” to run, according to a spokesman — the rhetorical battle lines for the contest have already been drawn.