By Michael D. Shear and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has told close associates that he has had "very serious" conversations with Sen. Barack Obama about joining the Democratic presidential ticket and has provided documents to the campaign as it combs through his background, according to several sources close to Kaine.
Obama has revealed little about which way he is leaning. And despite rising anticipation that a decision is imminent, campaign officials said an announcement is likely in mid-August, shortly before the Democratic National Convention. Obama's top aides, David Plouffe and David Axelrod, huddled yesterday in the Washington office of Eric Holder, who along with Caroline Kennedy is vetting potential running mates.
Although rumors have circulated about former military leaders and other nontraditional contenders, including Republicans, Obama's pool of prospects is heavy on longtime senators with foreign policy experience. Kaine and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius are the only state leaders believed to be under serious consideration, sources close to Obama said.
Democrats who have discussed possible choices with campaign officials and have knowledge of the vetting process said others being considered include Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and former senator Sam Nunn (Ga.). Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Democratic Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) are mentioned as long shots.
Aides to Kaine declined to comment about the possibility that Obama might pick him, referring all questions to the senator's campaign. "The governor has been pretty clear from the beginning, when Senator Obama asked him to be a national co-chair, that any conversation he has with the campaign, on any topic, are conversations that he is keeping private," said Delacey Skinner, Kaine's spokeswoman.
But several people who have spoken to Kaine said he has talked about the seriousness of the possibility. Each spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the campaign's desire to keep the process secret. One said Kaine has stressed that there are other top candidates but described his discussions with the campaign as "very serious."
Two other associates said Kaine's staff is providing the background information necessary to allow the campaign to search for potential political land mines. One source said Kaine chief counsel Larry Roberts is coordinating with Obama's team. Roberts could not be reached for comment. Kaine will be in Washington today for his monthly interview on WTOP Radio.
Kaine and Obama became friends after they campaigned together during Kaine's 2005 gubernatorial race. Kaine, who like Obama has Kansas roots, has returned the favor, stumping nationwide for the senator from Illinois during the primaries. In recent weeks, Kaine and his staff have been in frequent contact with Obama and his campaign about strategy and operations in Virginia and elsewhere. The governor has said he plans to attend the Democratic convention in Denver with his wife and children.
Picking Kaine would seem to satisfy many considerations Obama has recently laid out. During an interview with Tom Brokaw on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, the presumptive Democratic nominee said he was looking for someone who shares his desire to change Washington politics.
Kaine, a former Richmond mayor, would bring outside-the-Beltway credentials to the campaign. The relationship the two share would seem to fit with Obama's desire, as he said, for someone "with independence -- who's willing to tell me where he thinks, or she thinks, I'm wrong." And the governor probably would bolster Obama in Virginia, where the campaign is making an all-out push.
But Kaine has no foreign policy background, and as a first-term governor, he may add to voters' concerns about Obama's experience. Kaine remains popular in Virginia, but he has had trouble dealing with Republicans and has no single defining achievement to point to on the campaign trail.
In 2005, the major issue Republicans took aim at was his opposition to the death penalty, but since becoming governor, Kaine has declined to stop several executions.
In interviews, Obama has hinted that experience would factor into his decision on a running mate.
"I want somebody who I'm compatible with, who I can work with, who has a shared vision, who certainly complements me, in the sense that they provide a knowledge base or an area of expertise that can be useful. Because we're going to have a lot of problems and a lot of work to do," he said Sunday. "I want somebody who's going to be able to roll up their sleeves and really do some work."
Speaking to Brokaw, he reiterated that Clinton "would be on anybody's short list." Yet few people close to the Obama campaign think she is a serious contender.
Biden, whose own presidential bid ended in January, could help to balance Obama's shortcomings. He is one of his party's most prominent foreign policy voices, fluent in issues as varied as Iraq and narcotics trafficking. Elected in 1972, he also has deep ties to the Democratic establishment. With his blue-collar Scranton, Pa., roots, Biden could prove a valued surrogate in key Midwestern swing states.
But the outspoken Biden also is known for the occasional verbal gaffe, and his long tenure in Washington could muddle Obama's call for change.
Democratic observers say the safest bet may be Bayh, a former governor from a Republican state who is known for his centrist views. Obama supporters who are pressing for Bayh say that he would stir no controversy, nor would he overshadow the nominee, as an elder statesman like Biden might. Obama supporters who oppose Bayh counter that he is too conventional and too much of a Washington insider.
Reed, a military expert, is viewed as a lower-profile version of Biden who could take on a substantial national security portfolio. Like Kaine, Sebelius, Dodd and Biden, Reed also is a Roman Catholic, and his roots are humble -- his father was a school custodian.
Reed brushed aside speculation that was stirred last week when he accompanied Obama to Iraq and Afghanistan. "I am interested in serving in the United States Senate, and that interest trumps any consideration of serving as a vice president," he told the Providence Journal.
As a decision approaches, speculation about Obama's choices has intensified.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," the Weekly Standard's William Kristol said he thinks Obama has already decided on Kaine.
Obama is "in Washington on Tuesday, two days from now. He'll have a secret meeting with Tim Kaine -- this is my theory -- they'll work it all out," Kristol said. "And then on Monday, next Monday, August 4th, 11 a.m. in Richmond, Obama and Tim Kaine, and that will be an attractive young ticket. . . . I'm way out there on a limb here."
Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.