Kaine's Buoyant Outlook An Issue

Loss on Gun Bill Shows Rhetoric, Reality at Odds

When asked about his confidence on the gun issue, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said:
When asked about his confidence on the gun issue, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said: "I'm sure you are unclear why I think that. But, you know, I think that." (By Bob Brown -- Associated Press)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 25, 2008; Page B01

RICHMOND, Jan. 24 -- Hours after a House committee voted last week to kill a proposal requiring background checks on people who buy weapons at gun shows, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) declared the battle was "not over."

Although he said it would be a tough fight in a traditionally pro-gun state, Kaine predicted a similar bill could pass the Democratic-controlled Senate this week, which he said would give him leverage to win approval from the Republican-controlled House.

Asked why he was so optimistic against such long odds, Kaine replied: "I'm sure you are unclear why I think that. But, you know, I think that."

On Wednesday, Kaine's prediction fell short after rural Democrats teamed with Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee to defeat the proposal, which was one of Kaine's top legislative priorities in the wake of last year's Virginia Tech massacre.

The vote ending the issue was not only a setback for Kaine and the families of the Virginia Tech victims. It also showed how one of Kaine's strongest traits, his intense optimism, doesn't always translate into what he sometimes needs the most: votes.

"It takes awhile to learn to count votes," said Sen. Kenneth Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), who said Kaine had asked him to support the bill, without success. "I've been doing this for 16 years, and I don't take it for granted ever. He was too optimistic on that bill."

Whether pushing for a statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants or an expansion of subsidized pre-kindergarten, some lawmakers say they are concerned that Kaine's buoyant rhetoric doesn't match the reality of divided party control in the General Assembly and a worsening economy.

Delacey Skinner, Kaine's communications director, said Kaine works best when he is confident and focused on achieving a victory that advances his beliefs.

"What he has found is that holding up a goal and being optimistic and being willing to work with folks, even when odds are stacked against you, has often resulted in him being able to win folks over to his way of seeing things," Skinner said. "He is trying to create an atmosphere of focusing on the goal rather than the differences."

Some Republicans question whether Kaine's optimism borders on arrogance.

"Some people do politics that way hoping it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem). "But I do think it can have the tendency of misleading the public."

During the final hours of last year's legislative session, Kaine was confident that he could derail a compromise between House and Senate Republicans to pay for transportation improvements. But both chambers approved it. After initially threatening to veto it, Kaine amended the plan and took partial credit for coming up with new money for highways and mass transit.

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