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Three Leaders' Chosen Ones

Early and Deep Support, Two for Obama and One for Clinton

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By John Wagner, Tim Craig and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 8, 2008; Page B01

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine did not meet Barack Obama until 2005, when the freshman senator from Illinois went to Richmond to campaign for him. But the two Democrats immediately hit it off when they discovered some uncanny coincidences.

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Both were Harvard-educated civil rights lawyers. Both had eschewed more lucrative careers after graduating, with Kaine taking a year off to be a missionary in Honduras and Obama becoming a community organizer in Chicago. Most striking of all: Both of their mothers have family ties to the small south-central Kansas town of El Dorado.

That personal bond, as well as overlapping policy priorities, led Kaine to become the first governor outside Obama's home state to endorse his campaign for president.

With Tuesday's primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District fast approaching, Kaine and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) have accelerated their efforts on behalf of Obama, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is stepping up his campaigning for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). Like Kaine, Fenty and O'Malley made early endorsements based on personal history and a shared vision for the future.

O'Malley's political relationship with Clinton began on her husband's presidential trip to Northern Ireland in 2001 and was strengthened by collaboration with her on homeland security issues after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Fenty met Obama at the 2004 Democratic national convention in Boston, and they have developed a kinship as young, "post-racial" politicians who share a commitment to D.C. voting rights.

All three area leaders, highly ambitious in their own right, are deeply invested in Tuesday's outcome, as shown by their appearances at rallies, promotion of their preferred candidates to the news media and efforts to mobilize their supporters.

"I do feel a personal stake, maybe even more than most, in wanting [Obama] to be successful," Kaine said. "I don't feel like it is in my power to deliver my state, but I am a competitive guy. When I endorse someone, I like to work hard for them and help them win."

Kaine's wife, Anne Holton, recalled the governor as being "giddy" after he met Obama in 2005.

Still, the governor surprised many pundits by getting behind Obama's candidacy so early. In 2004, while lieutenant governor, Kaine was an early supporter of the presidential bid of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.). At the time, many believed Kaine's support of Lieberman was intended to burnish his moderate credentials as he prepared to run for governor.

Kaine and Obama appear to be a more natural ideological fit. Both are progressive on many issues but couch their positions around reaching out to independents and Republicans. On the campaign trail, Obama has often talked about priorities Kaine shares with him, including investing more in early childhood education.

"I endorsed Senator Obama for a whole series of reasons, but one was practical," Kaine said. "I really do believe he has a better chance."

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