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."
Kaine has said he will do whatever he can to help get the Bath senator elected. He's been involved with campaign calls and plans to hit the trail as the election approaches. His political action committee, Moving Virginia Forward, has donated $50,000 to Deeds and at last count had almost $210,000 on hand, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Presumably, that's all money that could be put toward Deeds's effort.
For all of the challenges Kaine's DNC chairmanship has raised, the position has also provided the governor a direct line to national strategists and fundraisers, connections he can bring to bear on Deeds's behalf.
"If there's someone in the room who can say, 'I know a little something about running for governor in Virginia,' at the end of the day, I think that's an asset," said Deeds campaign manager Joe Abbey.
Plus, as Kaine noted in a radio interview Tuesday, accolades for Virginia government and business have rolled in during his tenure. Last week, CNBC named the state the best place in the nation to do business. Governing Magazine has consistently named it best governed. And although Virginia's 7.2 percent unemployment rate is the highest since 1983, it is also considerably lower than elsewhere.
"I think we've got a lot to sell," Kaine said on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" radio program Tuesday. "Democrats have been results-orientated governors, and we're going to have another one."
Johnson said last week that her endorsement of McDonnell offered "no reflection on Tim Kaine."
"I am simply using my own independent mind and the research I've done to decide that Bob McDonnell is the best candidate," she said.