As the only state other than New Jersey that will elect a governor this year, Virginia is being watched by the nation's politicians and pundits as a testing ground for Democrats' latest strategy: courting Republican voters by embracing religion while assuring Democrats that such convictions don't matter. This is a peculiar position, as the gubernatorial candidacy of Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) demonstrates.
For instance, Kaine says that his Catholic faith leads him to oppose both abortion and the death penalty but that he would not, as governor, try to thwart either practice. Why not?
Kaine's opposition to the death penalty dates from his days as a law student. What sort of person spends his adult life campaigning against the death penalty, but -- if given the power to commute death sentences -- would decline to use it?
Either Kaine's beliefs are not strongly held, or he is being disingenuous. If the latter, Virginians have been down this road before.
Recall that in 2001, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner ran on a platform not to raise taxes. Yet once elected, Warner proposed the largest tax increase in Virginia history. Candidate Warner supported a referendum on the sales tax in Northern Virginia; Gov. Warner characterized referendums as "extremely irresponsible."
Warner wasn't even true to his base. As a candidate, he pledged to "fight further efforts to chip away at [abortion] rights." As governor, he signed legislation that banned partial-birth abortions and required parental consent before minors could undergo the procedure.
Is Kaine borrowing from Warner's playbook? Consider these unsettling indications:
* As Richmond's mayor, Kaine got into hot water for spending $6,500 of city funds to send a delegation to the District for the Million Mom March -- which essentially was a rally for gun control. As a gubernatorial candidate, he says on his Web site that he "strongly" supports the Second Amendment and "would introduce no new gun laws as governor."
* As lieutenant governor, Kaine supported raising the sales tax, capping the car-tax rebate, increasing state taxes by $1.4 billion and increasing the gas tax. Now he says that, if elected governor, he would push for tax relief.
* During the 2001 campaign Kaine supported a sales tax referendum in Northern Virginia. But when Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R) proposed a referendum last year to let voters decide on another proposed tax increase, Kaine huffed, "Ever since Pontius Pilate allowed the crowd to make the hard decision, people who are afraid to lead have often used popular referenda to avoid their responsibilities."
* As a newly elected city council member in Richmond, Kaine told a Richmond paper, "I'm a liberal and proud of it." Today, in his radio ads, he says, "I am conservative."
Will the real Tim Kaine please stand up?
The gubernatorial candidate seems to want to appease both camps on social issues as well. When running for lieutenant governor, his campaign literature heralded him as pro-choice. Now Kaine says he is antiabortion -- but would not interfere with abortion rights.
During the 2001 campaign Kaine supported "civil benefits" for gay couples; now he says he doesn't favor civil unions or gay marriage. Does that distinction have a difference?
Kaine also says in radio ads, "As mayor of Richmond, I cut taxes, cut crime, created jobs and built new schools," but those claims need to be placed in context.
Until last year Richmond did not have an elected at-large mayor. The city council chooses one of its own to serve as titular mayor -- a similar situation to a jury electing a foreman. Richmond's day-to-day operation was the job of the city manager. As the District 2 representative on the council, Kaine served his turn as mayor, but he can take no more credit or blame for Richmond than any other city council member.
That is not to say that Kaine did not serve his constituents well. He served honorably both as city council member and lieutenant governor. But those roles drew on his talent for collegiality; a governor has to lead. And before deciding whether they trust him to do that, Virginians need to know exactly where Kaine stands:
Is he a tax-cutting, antiabortion, gun-rights conservative or is that campaign posturing?
Maybe Kaine finally is speaking his mind, but after Warner, Virginians must be wary of Democrats who go in for extreme makeovers.