Nearly three years ago Virginia’s governor, Timothy M. Kaine, came from behind to beat the favored candidate, Jerry Kilgore, a conservative Republican attorney general whose roots in the state’s deep southwest mountain section helped and hurt his candidacy.
Rural Virginians across the state liked Kilgore’s farm upbringing and appreciated his parents’ sacrifices to see their twin boys and younger son educated and nurtured for public service. Kilgore’s steadfast conservatism was a click or two to the left of George Allen and Jim Gilmore, but obviously well to the right of the liberal-leaning Kaine. Kilgore never hid his conservative credentials and resisted admonitions to head to the middle and compromise his long-held views, some say to the detriment of his electability.
Northern Virginia, having changed demographically and politically as Yankees flocked to the region’s nicer weather and high-tech jobs, rejected Kilgore’s law-and-order stance, his mountain culture and dialect, his support for gun rights and what voters perceived as his anti-environmental stance, although as attorney general he had amped up the enforcement of all laws, including those protecting land, air and water.
In the end, Kilgore could not match Kaine’s deft transition from ultra-liberal to solid moderate without blinking an eye (although Kaine’s left eyebrow usually made a magnificent arch when it was obvious he was not believing his own “I am a traditional Virginian” rhetoric.)
Perceived as Virginia’s most liberal governor, Kaine kept his pro-business promise, even to the extent of re-appointing a member to the state water control board who had been cited twice for violating the state’s clean water laws he was sworn to uphold. Next, Kaine fully embraced a new coal-fired power plant in the Virginia coalfields and stood firm as his liberal base accused him of being owned by Dominion Virginia Power, a slave of coal and, most recently, of threatening the state’s citizen air pollution control board to vote right or else just one week before the power plant permit was to be decided. The permit was approved unanimously.
One of Virginia’s most influential political blogs, aptly named Raising Kaine, came into prominence bolstering Tim Kaine’s candidacy and image in a state that heretofore had flat out rejected all liberal and most moderate gubernatorial candidates. Kaine, some say, was literally blogged into office by Raising Kaine and other pro-environmental groups, pro-immigrant organizations and a statewide media that had decidedly become more liberal as Republicans were repeatedly vilified for being too pro-business and too anti-tax.
Mark Warner had shown the political world that resisting tax increases could be blamed on Republican-led gridlock, while raising taxes for specific good causes could be called leadership. Running on a platform not to raise taxes again, Kaine won his race and immediately supported a multitude of increases in fees and taxes, citing a change in circumstances as his justification.
When one now visits the Raising Kaine blog, all references to Tim Kaine are gone. Where his name once dominated the home page, a reverse “R” and standard “K” took its place. Most recently, the name “Hussein” fills the space between the “R” and the “K”. Presumably this is a show of support for Barack Hussein Obama, the current favorite of progressives, although he himself is being criticized by some progressive blogs for tilting toward the middle in an effort to win the White House.
Kaine’s unbending loyalty to perceived polluters and big business most likely killed any chances he had at being tapped as Obama’s vice-presidential running mate. He has also alienated wide swaths of independents, who are shocked first by his embrace of bad driver penalties affecting only Virginians, and then by his audacity to recommend higher gas taxes at a time when many working class people can barely afford to drive to and from their jobs.
All in all, Kaine has strayed from one bad policy decision to the other, alienating various bases of support without reaping much political capital or tangible results along the way.
Kaine’s campaign victory over a traditional conservative Republican could be a playbook for Obama as he follows the same path of winning the nomination by being liberal and pursuing the general election by adopting moderate to conservative viewpoints.
But Kaine’s actual governance should serve as a lesson for progressives to call out Obama early and often through liberal media and blog sources to prevent their candidate from being “Kained” by corporate America and hemmed in by the political middle.
It will be interesting to see if Virginia’s experience with Tim Kaine will help or hurt Obama. The Democratic nominee will need every ounce of oratory skills and acrobatic political two-stepping to pull off a victory in a state that has traditionally voted red in presidential elections.