By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 15, 2007
RICHMOND, Feb. 14 -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) plans to endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president Saturday, pledging early support from a Southern Democrat as the Illinois senator begins his campaign for the White House.
Kaine will sign onto Obama's presidential team ahead of the senator's appearance at the Virginia Democratic Party's annual fundraiser Saturday night, according to sources familiar with Kaine's decision. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they do not want to preempt the formal announcement.
Kaine's press secretary, Kevin Hall, declined to confirm the governor's intentions. A spokesman for Obama was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. Asked about Obama, Kaine grinned and said, "It's going to be a great day Saturday."
Kaine, who like Obama is a Harvard-educated civil rights lawyer, has made no secret of his admiration for the senator. Obama campaigned for Kaine in 2005 and joined him on the stump last year on behalf of U.S. Sen. James Webb (D). Obama's mother was from Kansas, where Kaine grew up.
In an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters last month, Kaine praised the other Democrats running for the 2008 presidential nomination as being part of "a deep field." He spoke effusively about Obama's personal charisma and abilities.
"Sen. Obama is just in a completely different category than anybody I've ever stood on a stage with," Kaine said in the Jan. 31 interview. "There is just a feeling of, you know, kind of a projection of hope on him from an audience that is just unreal. It's unreal."
Kaine said his time on the campaign trail with Obama has convinced him the first-term senator "is a person who has been through experiences that have given him sound judgment."
Shaun Kenney, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, said Kaine's endorsement of Obama would be in keeping with the political principles of both men.
"I don't think it's surprising that a governor who has proposed billion-dollar tax increases will endorse one of the most liberal members of the United States Senate," Kenney said Wednesday.
For Obama, an endorsement by Kaine on Saturday is an early victory in the competition for critical support among the nation's governors and in the South.
Virginia has for years been a Republican bastion for presidential candidates. But the victories of Kaine, Webb and former governor Mark R. Warner (D) have convinced many in the party that the state could be up for grabs in the 2008 election.
"Pundits might not say it's a complete tossup," Kaine said. "I just don't think it's a state to be taken for granted. And I don't think any smart presidential candidate will take it for granted."
Kaine had declared his intention to support Warner's presidential bid before his predecessor bowed out of the race late last year. In the recent Post interview, Kaine joked that Warner's decision opened the floodgates of interest from Democratic candidates.
"I had a complete pass and nobody was bugging me as long as Mark was running," Kaine said. "Since Mark got out, yeah, people have called me."
Kaine's decision to declare his intentions about Obama's candidacy almost a year before the first presidential primaries departs from recent tradition in Virginia. Warner endorsed Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) just a few days before the Virginia presidential primary, which Kerry won.
Also, it sets him at odds with some of his former political advisers. Kaine's 2005 campaign manager, Mike Henry, is the deputy campaign manager for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid. Mo Elleithee, who was communications director for Kaine's campaign, is also working for Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Making the announcement Saturday allows Kaine to tap into Obama's popularity among Virginia's Democratic activists.
Obama's speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner is expected to attract more than 3,000 Democrats to the Greater Richmond Convention Center, more than double the record for the event's history, according to state party officials.