RICHMOND — Former Democratic governor Tim Kaine kicked off a statewide tour Wednesday to roll out his plan to boost the economy and create jobs in Virginia — a central focus of his campaign for U.S. Senate.
The three-pronged plan includes reforming education; investing in infrastructure, such as roads and airports; and a combination of cuts and spending to help close the federal deficit and pay down the national debt.
By unveiling his policy with a glossy brochure and high-profile tour around the state, Kaine is trying to gain the upper hand against his chief rival, Republican George Allen, on what will be the key issue for the race — the economy. The contest to fill the seat of retiring Sen. James Webb (D) is expected to be one of the most competitive races in November, one that will help determine the balance of power in the Senate. Kaine secured his party’s nomination last week when no other Democratic candidate filed to run in the contest.
In his discussions Wednesday, Kaine frequently referred to his four-year tenure as governor from 2006 to 2010, saying he wants to take those “Virginia lessons” to Washington.
“One of the things we wrestle with nationally is, ‘If we want the economy to be strong, what should we do?’ ” Kaine said Wednesday. “Why not learn some lessons from Virginia?”
Kaine was joined Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D), his former law school classmate and predecessor in the governor’s mansion. The two spoke about increasing exports at the Port of Virginia while in Norfolk, small-business growth while in Northern Virginia and investments in education while at a school in Richmond.
“Working in Washington is pretty frustrating these days to say the least,’’ Warner said in introducing Kaine. “Boy, oh, boy. What we need more than anything up there are more folks who . . . aren’t going to be about blaming the other guy.’’
Kaine, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said his economic agenda stems from discussions he had at about 20 round tables with business leaders across the state. It includes increasing access to capital, changing the tax code, closing tax loopholes and allowing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire.
His Republican rivals criticized Kaine’s plan, “A Vision for Our Economic Future,’’ and his support of the federal stimulus and health-care plans backed by President Obama.
“It took a year, but Chairman Tim Kaine has finally put on paper what Virginia families already knew — he wants to raise taxes on families and small businesses; supports counterproductive energy policies which allow Washington to pick the winners and losers; wants more failed stimulus spending; and thinks Obamacare is a ‘great achievement’ which puts heavy burdens and mandates on individuals and small businesses alike,’’ said Mike Thomas, Allen’s campaign manager.
In Richmond, Kaine spoke to about 25 students and teachers at the small library at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies, where two of his three children graduated. As mayor, he used tax credits to renovate a run-down building into the state-of-the-art school.
Kaine and Warner fielded questions about budget cuts and corruption but stressed the need to build a talent-based economy.
“Whether it’s early childhood education, smart thinking about how ‘No Child Left Behind’ can be revised or reauthorized, more work on college affordability so it’s not so expensive or — a passion of mine — broader career and technical education . . . the driving force is we’ve got be the most talented place on Earth,’’ Kaine said.
At the Arlington headquarters of Opower, a company that helps utility customers save energy by giving them more-detailed bills, Kaine laid out his economic plan to an audience of Northern Virginia business leaders.
“I don’t believe we’re going to get to balance just through cuts,” Kaine said, mocking members of Congress who “pledge allegiance to Grover Norquist” by promising the conservative activist that they will never raise taxes.
Calling himself “a big believer in infrastructure,” Kaine lamented the fact that the two-year highway bill passed by the Senate was “languishing” in the Republican-controlled House.
Kaine and Warner ended their day at a rally in downtown Richmond attended by hundreds of supporters, including Kaine’s father-in-law and political hero, former governor Linwood Holton.
On Thursday, Kaine and Warner will fly to the Shenandoah Valley, Charlottesville, the Northern Neck and Southwest Virginia.
Last year, Allen, a former governor and senator, unveiled a set of policy proposals, “Blueprint for America’s Comeback,” that mostly echoed mainstream Republican policy thinking — broad cuts in taxes, spending and regulation across the federal government.
Kaine said his plan had a “much heavier focus on the talent piece. I believe that’s a key plank. You’ll see us focus on things like R&D and trade, which really aren’t there” in Allen’s plan,’ he said.