The Washington Post

Tim Kaine's waiting game (and what it means)

DNC Chairman Tim Kaine participates in a conference call in his office on September 30, 2010. (Tracy A Woodward/WASHINGTON POST)

And, for every one of those 29 days there has been only one question on the minds of political strategists in both parties: Is Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine going to run?

The Kaine timetable to announce his decision has been decidedly fungible. Some sources familiar with his thinking said he wanted to make a quick choice and would announce whether he was in or out before the state party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Feb. 19. Or not.

Today came word that Kaine, who has been on vacation for the last week, would have nothing public to say about his plans today or tomorrow. As for an announcement at an event this weekend for former Rep. Rick Boucher in southwestern Virginia? Not going to happen, according to an official authorized to speak on the former Virginia governor's behalf.

So, what -- if anything -- does Kaine's continued public silence on the race tell us about the chances he ultimately runs?

Conversations with a number of party insiders suggests that Kaine is somewhere close to 50-50 on whether to run in a campaign where he would likely face down former Sen. George Allen (R). Asked to put a finger on the scale, most Democratic strategists say Kaine will run -- although whether that is based on facts or hope is difficult to distinguish.

That Kaine is deeply divided about whether to run in and of itself represents something of a transformation in his thinking on the race. Prior to Webb's retirement, Kaine was dismissive of the Senate in both public and private.

In a January interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell Kaine said that he had "a job I really like right now", adding: "I think having been governor of Virginia, it's hard to top that."

That lack of interest publicly was designed not to get in front of Webb's announcement but was also reflective of the fact that Kaine, initially at least, had doubts about running for the Senate, according to those familiar with his thinking.

With that as context, Kaine's waiting game would seem to play into the idea that he is warming to the idea since, if he had no interest and couldn't be convinced, he would have no reason not to have made that clear soon after Webb's announcement -- saving himself from the last month of "will he or won't he" speculation.

And, while details are scarce about how Kaine is going about deciding whether or not to run, he has spoken to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.), former DSCC chair Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and homestate Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) about the prospect -- suggesting that he is taking a very hard look at it.

Another important factor to remember when analyzing what Kaine's timetable (or lack there of) means is that he is currently the head of the party's national committee with all the commitments -- fundraising and otherwise -- that go with that high-level post.

Assuming Kaine had already decided to run -- and, to be clear, there is NO ONE who suggests he has -- it would be in his (and the White House's) best interest to have figured out how the DNC could function temporarily without a chairman and what the race to replace him might look like before he went public with his intentions.

Simply put: The longer Kaine takes to announce his decision, the more likely it is that the decision will be for him to run.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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