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Va. Sen. Tim Kaine says he will seek another term

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said on Friday he will seek another term. (John C. Clark/AP)

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) announced Friday he plans to seek a third term, sending a wave of relief through the Democratic Party amid worries that he would retire and create a potential opening for Republicans.

Kaine, 64, said it was not a decision he reached lightly. He consulted for some time with his family, friends and Democratic colleagues — many of whom were hoping Kaine would seek reelection considering a number of tough races next year for Democrats, but who Kaine said appreciated he needed time to come to a firm decision himself.

He grappled with the choice while traveling throughout the state, energized by the people he met in every corner, he said, before ultimately deciding: He wasn’t done yet.

“Man, I’ve got more I wanna do,” he said. “I’ve got to be honest and look in the mirror and say, ‘Have I done everything I wanted to get done?’ And the answer is, no I haven’t.”

Asked about what kind of pressure he got from Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to run, Kaine said Schumer and other Senate Democrats have been “good at encouraging” him to do so while also acknowledging it was his own decision to make, giving him time and space.

“I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said, ‘I’m a slow walker, but when I do walk, I don’t turn back.’ Having made the decision, I’m all in. I’m ready to run very, very vigorously,” Kaine said. “I’m ready to keep serving very vigorously. Some people were pretty patient with me as I was making my decision, and I really appreciate that.”

Kaine will be seeking reelection under a decidedly different environment than in his last race, when a Democrat was in the Executive Mansion and his opponent, Corey Stewart, turned off moderate Virginians with hard-right positions and staunch support for Confederate statues. Kaine won by 16 points. He won by 6 in 2012 against former Virginia governor and senator George Allen.

Though Kaine is still considered well-positioned to keep his seat, Republicans have been energized by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s victory in 2021 over former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) by about 2 percentage points, and have been motivated to keep the momentum going.

Whether the governor could be a contender for the seat himself remains an open question; Virginia governors cannot seek consecutive terms. Youngkin’s ambitions have been under a microscope, as the governor has launched two political-action committees, met with megadonors, and crisscrossed the country stumping for GOP gubernatorial candidates during the midterms. Youngkin has frequently deflected suggestions he is eyeing a White House bid — but others haven’t ruled out a Senate run.

A September University of Mary Washington poll tested a Youngkin Senate candidacy in a hypothetical matchup against Kaine, finding support for them was close among Virginia voting-age adults.

Kaine avoided speculating about his potential opponent at his news conference Friday, held after an economic roundtable with young Richmond leaders. Those at the roundtable, he said, were exactly the kind of people who have inspired him to want to continue the work.

The Senate can be a frustrating place sometimes, Kaine said — but nevertheless he feels that progress has been made on some fronts, sometimes by the narrowest of margins, showing how one senator’s decision to stay or go can make a big difference. “We saved the Affordable Care Act by one vote in 2017,” he said. “That will always be maybe the moment in politics I’ll remember the most: 30 million people’s health insurance was on the line. And it was a one-voter and you know, if I hadn’t run in 2012, it would have gone the other way.”

As he weighed the decision, Kaine credited his wife, former Virginia education secretary Anne Holton, with giving him the advice to “come to a resolve point in your mind, and then live with it for about a week and find out if you’re waking up, second-guessing it or not.”

He said he followed that advice and picked two Bible verses to represent his choices: one that could be read as a reason to retire, the other as a reason to run.

On the retire side he turned to Ecclesiastes: “For every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” On the run side, Galatians: “Do not grow weary in doing good. You will reap a great harvest if you do not give up,” as Kaine recited.

“I drove around the state, kind of thinking about, ‘Which of these two verses resonates with me right now?’” Kaine said.

Galatians won out.

He said he made his decision a little more than a week ago. “But I needed the time to let it sit and make sure that I wasn’t second-guessing.” Then he managed to pull off a rarity in politics by keeping his secret secret. Aside from his family, Kaine told three staffers Wednesday and the rest of his staff at 9 p.m. Thursday, he said.

Of the race ahead, Kaine said: “I’m taking nothing for granted. I’m assuming I’m gonna have a hard race.” He said the current partisan breakdown of the House and Senate was not a factor in his decision, and he remains optimistic that issues such as immigration reform, opioid addiction and workforce development can be tackled in a bipartisan way.

In just 10 years, Kaine has developed a reputation as an honest broker with many Republicans — a policy wonk who more often strikes an optimistic note about bipartisan get-alongs, and who has publicly described a personal mission not to grow cynical about dysfunction in Congress. He’s been at the negotiating table on some of the most consequential legislation, sometimes working with bipartisan rump “gangs” on legislation not initially approved of by Senate leaders.

That reputation has put him at the forefront of more challenging assignments in the face of the Senate filibuster: He’s worked with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a fellow Catholic, on protecting abortion rights, despite his personal opposition to abortion, and he helped lead the charge on Democrats’ major voting rights legislation despite not serving on the relevant committees, saying he hoped to “change the trajectory” of his Senate seat previously occupied by segregationists.

A fluent Spanish-speaker who spent time with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, Kaine has also prioritized immigration reform, making history in 2013 as the first senator to deliver a speech entirely in Spanish on the Senate floor.

Tim Kaine wants to ‘change the trajectory’ of his ‘Byrd seat,’ long held by segregationists

He sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he has relentlessly sought to rewrite the war resolutions used to start the Afghanistan and Iraq wars two decades ago.

Kaine, who served as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in her 2016 presidential campaign, has long been a political heavyweight in Virginia and beyond. He first rose to prominence in the state as a civil rights lawyer, then began his political career in Richmond, first as a city council member, then mayor, climbing to become governor of Virginia. His steady but emotional leadership in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech mass killing garnered broad recognition, an experience he has said has informed his push to expand gun restrictions during his tenure in the Senate.

Coronavirus: Long COVID with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)

Some of the speculation about whether Kaine might retire was in part due to his experience with long covid, which he has spoken about publicly. Last year, he sponsored legislation aimed at funding research on the condition.

During the news conference, Kaine said that rather than hinder him, his experience with long covid was actually part of the reason he chose to run again. “I have long covid. It’s mild. It’s not getting in my way. But it is noticeable enough that I knew there are people who are really struggling with this,” he said. “We’ve got to do better in terms of finding treatments and cures and therapies for the millions of Americans who are going to be dealing with this for a very long time.”

Vozzella reported from Richmond. Paul Kane, Amy Gardner and Scott Clement contributed to this report.