Kaine Urges 'Right Tone' In Battle for Governor

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 27, 2009

RICHMOND, Feb. 26 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Wednesday predicted a hard-fought three-way Democratic gubernatorial primary and said he has approached other party leaders to help him prevent strife from damaging the party's chances of electing his successor.

In a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, Kaine (D) also said he thinks a lively contest between former delegate Brian Moran, Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) and former National Democratic Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe will ultimately bolster the party's chances to maintain its hold on the governor's mansion.

Kaine said he recently spoke to Virginia's Democratic U.S. senators, Mark R. Warner and James Webb, about helping him rein in the candidates if their attacks go too far.

"We would like to keep it in acceptable bounds," Kaine said. "I can see myself weighing in with these guys, saying, 'Hey, think about November. You're acting in ways that may not be helpful in November.' "

The three Democrats recently began waging what will be the state's first seriously contested primary for governor since 1977. Kaine said all three will be under "intense pressure" to make sure they are "calibrating the right tone."

There have been signs that the primary will be heated.

At a party fundraiser this month, Moran took repeated swipes at McAuliffe in an effort to portray him as a professional campaign money man who was out of touch with average Virginians. Some Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, later expressed concerns that Moran's approach was too harsh.

A few days later, McAuliffe took several playful jabs at Moran and his advisers, including using barnyard terminology to describe top Moran strategist Joe Trippi, at a roast in front of the Richmond press corps. McAuliffe's advisers stressed that he was joking, but some Moran advisers said he crossed a line.

Kaine, who recently took over as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, predicted that the primary will ultimately benefit the party's bid for a third consecutive term in power. He noted that President Obama capitalized on a fierce nomination fight with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Democrats are nervous about the [June 9] primary because it is not something we are used to, but I tell people to remember the long primary helped Barack," Kaine said. "People got to know him. People got to see him take a punch and come back battle-tested."

The Republican nominee, former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell, predicted that the Democratic primary will boost his chances in the fall.

"I think by June 10, whoever wins [the Democratic primary] will probably be out of money, and there will be a divided party because you've got three good candidates at the table," McDonnell said Thursday morning in a separate meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters.

As the Democrats deplete their resources battling each other, McDonnell said, he will be benefiting from the help of national GOP leaders -- including Sen. John McCain and his 2008 running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- to build an imposing bankroll for the November election.

"Everybody who cares about the Republican Party nationally or everybody who wants to run for president in 2012 will be in Virginia" this year, McDonnell said.

Kaine predicted that the dynamics of this year's nomination contest will be far different from last year's presidential primary. In that race, more than 1 million voters cast ballots. This year, Kaine predicted that only a few hundred thousand voters would participate. He said that will place a heavy emphasis on each candidate's ability to cultivate grass-roots support.

"Field politics is going to dictate who will win this primary," Kaine said.

In a low-turnout election, Deeds and Moran are positioning themselves as front-runners by rolling out a string of endorsements from local elected officials and party leaders who are skilled at turning out voters in their communities. McAuliffe has hired 40 field organizers and plans to open eight regional offices in the coming weeks.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company