Senate speculation served at annual Democrat dinner

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 19, 2011; 11:07 PM

RICHMOND - Hundreds of Democrats from across Virginia descended on the capital city Saturday night to raise money for the state party, catch up with longtime friends and, of course, speculate about who might run for U.S. Senate next year.

The state party's biggest fundraiser of the year turned into a guessing game as activists contemplated who among their party might run to replace U.S. Sen. James Webb in one of the most-closely-watched Senate races of 2012.

Timothy M. Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Virginia governor and possible candidate, was greeted by enthusiastic crowds of activists in his home town by those wanting him to run. Numerous party leaders, including U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner and the state's congressmen, urged him from the stage to jump into the race.

But after consulting with President Obama and being encouraged to run by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), both of Virginia's senators and countless state officials, he said he was flattered by the interest but not ready to make an announcement.

"We're spending some time reflecting about it," Kaine said of himself and wife Anne to the crowd. "And I'm going to make a decision soon about whether I can best serve the Commonwealth as senator or as chairman of Virginia."

A few voices rang out: "Run, Tim, run!"

"Whatever decision I make, I'm confident the next senator from Virginia will be a Democrat," he said.

About 1,500 activists from across the state attended the black-tie Jefferson-Jackson dinner at the Greater Richmond Convention Center as they look to rebound after two years of losses. All 140 legislators are up for reelection this year.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the new chairman of the Democratic Governors Association who was reelected in November, was the keynote speaker.

In his speech, O'Malley repeated a call to continue to invest in education and infrastructure while governing in a fiscally responsible way. He took a few shots at his Republican counterparts.

"The tea partying Republican governors live in a different world than ours," O'Malley said. "They would have us believe that we can somehow just cut our way to a better future - no need to invest in education, no need to invest in infrastructure."

Defeated Virginia congressmen Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello will join their former colleagues, including Reps. Gerald E. Connolly, James P. Moran Jr. and Robert C. Scott, at the dinner. Terry McAuliffe, a 2009 gubernatorial candidate looking to make another run at the governor's mansion in 2013, attended with two electric cars for show.

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