Virginia Notebook: Though Not on the Ballot, Kaine Is on the Spot in November

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009

Put aside the candidates, and there might be no one in Virginia with as much riding on this year's gubernatorial election as Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).

A win for Democratic state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds and Kaine will be accepted by history as having been a popular governor, a successful national Democratic Party chairman and a strong ally to his party's leader, President Obama.

And if Deeds is defeated by former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell? Kaine's tenure will instead be remembered as the time when Virginians lost faith in Democratic leadership, despite the popularity of predecessor Mark R. Warner.

It would be more difficult to view Kaine's Democratic National Committee stewardship in a positive light, seeing as how he was selected partly based on the belief he could keep his conservative state blue. And a Virginia loss would certainly be no favor to Obama.

"With Tim Kaine being the national chair, you've just got to be able to carry your home state," said former governor L. Douglas Wilder, who last week declined to immediately endorse Deeds despite a personal appeal delivered during a visit from a top White House aide.

All this makes a few developments of the past few weeks puzzling to observers of the political scene.

Last week, Kaine's second-largest individual donor, close friend Sheila Johnson, announced she was endorsing McDonnell. Randal J. Kirk, Kaine's largest donor, said he remains neutral. Kaine's reluctance to release records of his travels for the DNC drew negative editorials and opened a line of attack for Republicans. Both McDonnell and Deeds have vowed to overturn his decision to save money by closing highway rest stops. And he apparently did not intervene when the White House devised its overture to Wilder, a move Kaine could have predicted would become public and only draw attention to Wilder's uncertainty.

"What Creigh is running is a campaign of linkage and lineage -- first cousin to Warner and Kaine. The question is, is that link strong enough?" Wilder asked. "Are the actions of Kaine helping him? That's questionable."

Then came the first debate between Deeds and McDonnell on Saturday in Hot Springs, where Deeds praised Warner from the stage but did not mention Kaine. Was Deeds trying to distance himself from his party's leader?

Absolutely not, his campaign says. Deeds mentioned Kaine to reporters just after the event. Deeds will campaign with Kaine and Obama next week. He told supporters in a fundraising appeal Tuesday that he was "proud to have stood with Mark Warner and Tim Kaine."

And Deeds said this week that he is pleased with the stewardship of Kaine, who remains popular, according to polls.

"Let's be clear: George Bush is responsible for our economic problems," Deeds said. "And under Tim Kaine's leadership, Virginia has been ranked as the best state for business in the nation. We are more than happy to compare their records."

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