The part-time Pizza Hut cook and the former governor have known each other since Kaine joined the church almost three decades ago. “We helped start the Men’s Group together,” Thompson said.
Kaine, 54, and his wife, Anne Holton, made their way into the cool bright sanctuary, stopped by friends every few feet to swap Sunday greetings and family news. The Kaines were married in 1984 at St. E’s altar. All three of their children were baptized at its font.
For Kaine, religion saturates both life and politics. A former missionary in rural Honduras, he talks frequently of how Catholicism informs his views on race and poverty and his deep embrace of cultural diversity, which he hails as “God’s rich tapestry.”
Faith has been one of the twin pillars of Kaine’s political success. The other is a reputation for bipartisanship that has taken a hit from his two years as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Both themes help explain the rise of a Midwestern social-justice Democrat in a churchgoing, socially conservative southern state. Virginia, which began shifting from red to purple about the time Kaine first ran for statewide office a decade ago, proved hospitable to Kaine’s blend of religious zeal and political pragmatism.
But if faith is central to Kaine’s political identity, it is also a source of personal pain for an otherwise unfailingly upbeat campaigner.
As he runs against Republican George Allen for a hotly contested open Senate seat, he acknowledges the “wrenching” cuts to social welfare programs he made as a recession-era governor. And he grows even more solemn when the topic is capital punishment, the point at which Kaine’s political ambitions appeared to trump his moral convictions.
When Kaine first ran for statewide office in 2001, not only was he an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, he had also defended death row inmates as a pro-bono attorney. It was not a promising profile in a state that remains second only to Texas in the number of executions since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.
Kaine adroitly defused the issue, promising voters he would not block the state’s death penalty machinery, despite his personal beliefs.
Other Catholic governors have found ways to curtail executions on their watches. New Mexico’s Toney Anaya (D) commuted the death sentences of all five death row inmates at the end of his term in 1986. Illinois’s George Ryan (R) declared a moratorium on executions in 2000; Maryland’s Martin O’Malley (D) effectively did the same in December 2006.
“I think people had some hopes that Kaine would take some bold moves,” said Richard Dieter, head of the D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center. “But the political reality is, Virginia is not Maryland. There was a perception that you can’t advance if you oppose the death penalty. He ended up doing as he said he would do.”