Barack Obama could do worse than Virginia Governor Tim Kaine as a ticket-mate.
Kaine is a smart, articulate and principled attorney who spent much of his legal career making real the promise of open housing for people of color and people with disabilities. As a lawyer, he was a stalwart defender of civil rights and civil liberties who courageously challenged Virginia death penalty abuses.
Kaine learned to speak Spanish fluently while working with the poor in Central America and then came home to graduate with high marks from Harvard Law School. He could easily have gone corporate; instead he went to the grassroots, focusing in on fair-housing advocacy in Virginia and teaching legal ethics at the University of Richmond Law School.
When Kaine entered politics, the affable contender went from strength to strength. After winning election to the Richmond City Council and then serving successfully at that city’s mayor, he beat a right-wing Republican with ties to the Bush administration in an edgy race for lieutenant governor that was decided just weeks after the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.
Four years later, he beat a former Republican state attorney general in an intense contest for governor. Smeared for his opposition to the death penalty and support for responsible fiscal policies — which in the language of Republican attack ads translates as “raising taxes — Kaine proved to be a remarkably agile contender. He piled up votes in the liberal Washington suburbs while holding his own in rural areas where his ability to go less Harvard and more homespun played well.
As governor, he has been both progressive and effective — maintaining the responsible approach to budgeting initiated by former Governor Mark Warner, launching bold land conservation initiatives, making moves to bar smoking in a tobacco state where such a stance was once considered politically impossible and responding to the Virginia Tech massacre in a caring yet conscientious manner that won wide praise.
So Kaine really is a very attractive contender for the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that he will be Obama’s running-mate.
While casual commentators suggest that Kaine’s addition to the ticket would put the potential swing state of Virginia “into play,” the reality is that Virginia is already competitive — thanks to the same shifting political demographics that have seen the state elect two Democratic governors and a Democratic senator in recent statewide contests and that caused campaigners for John Kerry to consider making a play for the state in 2004.