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Kaine Stays Silent About Possible Vice Presidential Nomination

July 30, 2008

By Warren Fiske, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Jul. 30–RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine was mum Tuesday as word spread across the nation that Democrat Barack Obama may be on the verge of asking him to run for vice president.

“I’m just not going to talk about my conversations with the campaign,” he said in an interview during his monthly appearance on WTOP radio in Washington.

On his way out, he was swarmed by reporters on the sidewalk. “I have not sought it. I’m not running for it. I’m not asking for it,” he said.

But Kaine repeatedly declined to say he would turn down an offer to be Obama’s running mate. And he refused to guarantee that he will finish his term as governor, which ends in January 2010.

The national media are abuzz this week with reports from unidentified Obama advisers that Kaine is in the final cut of vice presidential candidates with perhaps two or three other Democrats.

The news has triggered debate over what Obama is seeking in a running mate and what Kaine could deliver.

There have been widespread arguments that Obama needs a Washington veteran with deep experience in foreign policy to compensate for perceived weaknesses in his resume. If that’s the campaign’s thinking, Kaine may come up short compared with two other Democrats prevalently said to be in the running for the No. 2 spot: Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Joe Biden of Delaware.

Conventional wisdom holds that vice presidential candidates are often chosen because they can help their ticket win an important state. If that’s correct, Kaine could bring a lot to the table.

Democrats came close to winning the presidency in the last two elections, and Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, went Republican both times. The Obama campaign wants to change that trend this year. It has opened 24 campaign offices across the state and is trying to register young voters and black voters.

“The governor might be able to add a (percentage) point or two to the vote,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. “Who knows? That might be the difference in Virginia.”

Sabato added, however, that vice presidential choices rarely produce votes — with the exception of Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who crucially delivered his home state of Texas to John F. Kennedy in 1960.

“Nobody votes for a vice president,” said former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat who now is mayor of Richmond. “The most important thing is that Obama picks someone he’s personally comfortable with.”

Wilder has long admired Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond. “I was one of the people early on who suggested Tim Kaine be considered” for the vice presidency, he said.

Obama showed similar thinking Sunday when he said he wanted someone who shares his vision of change for Washington.

Kaine is close with Obama personally and philosophically. They’re both graduates of Harvard Law School. Their mothers, although they never knew each other, were both born in El Dorado, Kan. Obama helped Kaine’s 2005 gubernatorial campaign. Kaine, in early 2007, became one of the first major supporters of Obama’s presidential bid.

Privately, several state Democrats wonder whether Kaine brings forward a strong gubernatorial record. He generally receives high marks for intelligence, kindness and his sensitive handling of the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, when a gunman killed 32 students and faculty members before committing suicide.

But Kaine’s key initiatives have either been killed or gutted by the legislature, including proposals to expand state-sponsored pre-kindergarten classes and to raise taxes to help transportation.

No Virginia governor since 1852 has left office before his term ended, the longest streak in the nation. Kaine’s early departure would put Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, in charge for the final 14 months of Kaine’s term. Bolling would be eligible to run for a full four-year term. This spring, when the tide of Virginia politics was more predictable, Bolling vowed not run for governor in 2010. He announced he would spare the GOP strife by seeking another term in the No. 2 spot, giving Attorney General Bob McDonnell a clear run for the gubernatorial nomination.

A codicil to that pact was never made public, however. The two, according to advisers who asked not to be named, also agreed that should Bolling become governor before the election, McDonnell would defer to him in 2010 and seek a second term as attorney general.

In a video on MSNBC’s Web site, Kaine told reporters in Washington he is not distracted by his sudden fame. “I’m still focused on governing Virginia,” he said.

Although Obama also was in Washington, Kaine said they had no plans to meet. The governor said he was headed to Chincoteague to watch today’s running of the ponies with his 13-year-old daughter, Annella.

Warren Fiske, (804) 697-1565, warren.fiske@pilotonline.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

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