Though often overshadowed, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine remains a tireless, loyal messenger
Sunday, October 10, 2010; 7:00 AM
NEW YORK--There might be no worse job in American politics today than Tim Kaine's. As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the former Virginia governor has logged nearly 200,000 miles this campaign season, his life a whirl of cold chicken, anonymous hotel rooms and the seemingly endless task of slipping on and off his black leather shoes at one airport security checkpoint after another.
And three weeks before Election Day, Kaine finds himself at the head of a dispirited party that faces the possibility of historic losses.
By the usual standards, Kaine has done what party leaders are supposed to do. He's raised a record amount of money, always stays on message and, unlike Republican counterpart Michael Steele, does not attract unwanted attention.
In fact, Kaine seems to attract little attention at all. He's an often forgotten, even invisible presence, drowned out by President Obama and a cast of higher-profile Democrats. It is unclear how much blame or credit he'll receive, no matter what happens in November.
When Kaine delivered a "major national address" in Philadelphia, the television networks instead aired an economic speech by the president. When Kaine went to the University of Delaware recently to rally students, the lecture hall was half empty.
And when Kaine appeared on "The Daily Show" last month, his performance became an afterthought. Vice President Biden headlined "The Colbert Report" the same night.
If his role bothers Kaine, it doesn't show. He hustles from television hit to fundraiser to pep rally, with gusto and endless optimism. Kaine says he does it all for the president he reveres and the party he loves, and the possibility that no matter how much of a beating Democrats take, he and the DNC will come out of it better than where they started.
As he bit into a roast beef sandwich aboard an Acela train rumbling toward New York recently, he looked out the window and observed: "We've got a hard road to go, but we've been down hard roads like this." And then he summed neatly the tone he is trying to set for the party: "I think we need to be the happy warriors. It's the opposite of anxious warriors. I think we need to be proud of who we are and what we've done."
Kaine's supporters say he is emotionally suited to navigate this political moment. He has been a force of calm and continuity shepherding a distressed party. Lately during his travels, Kaine has turned to reciting a James Cleveland freedom hymn that he learned to sing in his Virginia church choir:
I don't feel no ways tired,
I've come too far from where I started from.
Nobody told me that the road would be easy,