The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tim Kaine makes rare campaign stops in his home state of Virginia

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine during a recent campaign trip to Florida. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP)
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RICHMOND — With an appearance at a park here where a pee-wee football game was underway, Sen. Tim Kaine on Saturday wrapped up his first campaign swing through his home state of Virginia since shortly after joining Hillary Clinton on the Democratic presidential ticket seven weeks ago.

The lack of formal campaign events reflects Democratic confidence in a battleground state where the ticket has spent less time and money than expected in this year’s race against Republican Donald nominee Trump.

Kaine, who also held a rally Friday night on the campus of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, said he and Clinton are taking nothing for granted but remain well-positioned to win Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.

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“We have been gratified so far with how the ticket is doing in Virginia, for a variety of reasons, including me being on the ticket,” Kaine said in an interview with The Washington Post. “We have a solid lead here. It’s not a lead to take for granted. We’re looking at it every day. But of the variety of battleground states we’re focused on, at least as of today, Virginia isn’t one of the ones that’s a razor-thin margin.”

A 50-state Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll released this week showed Clinton leading Trump in Virginia, 49 percent to 41 percent, a more comfortable margin than other recent polls. Last month, both the Clinton campaign and a super PAC supporting the Democratic ticket paused their television advertising here.

The last formal campaign event that Kaine held in Virginia was a welcome-home rally in Richmond just days after he was added to the ticket. Kaine said he has continued to be a presence in the community on his down days at home.

At Friday night’s rally in the Hampton Roads area, Kaine devoted part of his remarks to touting his ticket’s commitment to military families and proudly retraced the ascent of Democrats in recent presidential cycles.

“It used to be in the presidential years, sadly, in Virginia, we were not that competitive,” Kaine told a modest-size crowd. “It was a super-red state. Republicans didn’t need to campaign here because they were going to win. Democrats didn’t need to campaign here because, why bother? They were going to lose. But it’s been this generation of Virginians that has worked us in right into the spotlight.”

The state sided with President Obama in 2008 and 2012 after a string of Republican victories in prior cycles.

Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond and governor of Virginia, spent about 20 minutes Saturday afternoon mingling with mostly African American patrons at a park in the Highland Springs community outside the city. Kaine posed with pee-wee football players and hoisted a toddler as he made his way through the crowd, guided by Secret Service agents.

Aides to the vice-presidential nominee said volunteers from the Clinton campaign were present at the park, trying to register voters as part of a major nationwide push by the campaign.

In an interview earlier Saturday, Kaine said he was supportive of an effort by the state’s current governor, Terry McAulilffe (D), to restore en masse the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons in the state. McAuliffe's move, by executive action, has since been halted by the Virginia Supreme Court.

“I’m strongly in support of doing what he did,” Kaine said of McAuliffe. “I definitely believe that what Terry is doing is the right thing to do to try to enfranchise people. I thought the ruling of the Supreme Court was unfortunate.”

Virginia is one of just a handful of states that ban all felons from voting and require individual exemptions from the governor for ex-offenders to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Nearly a quarter of the state’s black population cannot vote because of felony convictions.

Kaine declined to undertake the same kind of sweeping initiative as McAuliffe did during his tenure as governor, which Kaine attributed to timing.

“We were asked at the end of my time as governor to look at this, but we had so little time … we just couldn’t, you know, reach the conclusion that we could do it.”

Kaine said his hope now is that the Virginia legislature will pass a law bringing Virginia’s system of restoring voting rights more closely in line with those of other states, many of which allow restoration under certain conditions after a felon’s sentence has been completed.

It’s “a negative badge on Virginia right now that we do it this way, and I hope that we’ll change it,” he said.