Kaine Grinning His Way to a Legacy

No matter how grim the news from the legislature, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), right, keeps a confident smile in public. With him is Sen. John W. Warner (R).
No matter how grim the news from the legislature, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), right, keeps a confident smile in public. With him is Sen. John W. Warner (R). (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 15, 2007

RICHMOND If Virginia Sen. James Webb (D) is eternally serious [Virginia Notebook, Feb. 8], then Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) could be his opposite twin.

The "guv" is never without a wide grin.

Never mind that Kaine's in his 13th month on the job and still waiting for the General Assembly to reach a transportation deal he can sign. Or that his major land-use reforms look doomed this year. Or even that his preschool initiative has been trashed in the House of Delegates.

None of that seems to faze Kaine, who refuses to allow the news of the moment -- no matter how grim -- to wipe the confident smile off his face. It's as if he knows something we don't. Maybe he does.

The truth is that in Virginia, governors rarely seem to have much success in their first year in office. Kaine, like others before him, is entering his second full year in office without a big victory on which to claim his legacy.

That's certainly no worse than his predecessor, Mark R. Warner (D). The Richmond Times-Dispatch was still describing Warner as "bloodied and hobbled" by the end of his second year in office. It wasn't until his victory over House Republicans halfway through his third year that Warner seemed to be sprinkled with pixie dust.

As Kaine knows, the pixie dust can come in the blink of an eye.

George Allen (R) left the executive mansion with high marks from voters (though, admittedly, his term started off better than most, with early legislative victories). Even James S. Gilmore III (R) left the governor's office with high approval ratings.

If they did it, it stands to reason Kaine can, too.

The trick is making sure Virginia voters see an active governor who's working aggressively for solutions to the state's problems, even if he's not succeeding.

That has proved to be a challenge for Kaine in the transportation debate; he knows that being too involved in the struggle between the House and state Senate could make the situation worse.

That leaves it to his public relations gurus, communications director Delacey Skinner and press secretary Kevin Hall, to convince the public that Kaine is working even as they convince lawmakers that he is staying out of their business.

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