I’ve spent the past couple of weeks mulling over the possibility of Tim Kaine getting the nod as Barack Obama’s running mate, and I’ve come to the decision that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. On the whole, I think it would be good for the Obama campaign, good for Virginia Democrats, and certainly good for Tim Kaine.
I’ve lamented that Kaine would be a bad choice for VP, and I think that’s true, in the sense that there are—or, rather, were—much better contenders. Both Sen. Jim Webb and Gov. Mark Warner leap to mind immediately. But, one by one, those better contenders took themselves out of the running. And there’s nothing to be gained in comparing the available candidates against hypothetical candidates. From the field of individuals understood to be contenders for Obama’s vice presidential nominee right now, I think Kaine’s probably the best guy.
What Kaine lacks, in comparison to a hypothetical ideal, is a reputation as a centrist and a military background. (I expect that he’ll have a reputation as a centrist in the years ahead, after his term is over, but now he’s simply known at best as somebody trying to be a centrist. Warner’s image as a centrist likewise enjoyed a boost possible only in retrospect.) But Kaine’s Catholic moorings and governorship of a conservative state is enough to persuade the average American voter that he’s a centrist. Likewise, Kaine isn’t of the south, but the rest of the country doesn’t know that, what with his being governor of a southern state. It’s not clear to me that Kaine could deliver Virginia, but the odds would certainly improve.
The other leading contender, if one believes the rumor mill, is Deleware’s Sen. Joe Biden. He’s an amicable guy, a funny and forceful speaker, and has a relatively good record in the Senate. (Many people find his support of the bankruptcy “reform” bill for his state’s credit card debt industry an unforgivable sin. I won’t go that far, but I lost a lot of respect for him.) He’s 65 years old, giving the ticket some much-needed gray hair, and he’s held his seat since 1973, giving the ticket some much-needed experience. On the other hand, Biden is a bit of a loose cannon, and doesn’t bring a state with him. There are some definite upsides to the choice of Biden—I could even be persuaded that he’d be a better pick than Kaine—but I remain a Kaine man.
Good for Virginia Democrats
I have an awfully difficult time fearing the prospect of Governor Bill Bolling. I’ve fostered kittens that I’ve found more threatening than Lt. Gov. Bolling. Part of that comes from his career, which has substantially consisted of him insisting that he and Kaine are BFF, and part of that comes from watching hours of video of the Virginia senate, over which he wields an
iron Downy-soft fist of fear wuv. Obviously, I believe that Kaine makes a better governor than Bolling would, but there’s not much damage that he can do in a year and two months, especially since the budget is set through the rest of his term. He’d spend his first year bound to the machinations Kaine has already set in place.
What I really like about this is the disarray that it would throw Virginia Republicans into. They’ve managed to plan out the 2009 election pretty neatly, with AG Bob McDonnell running for governor and Bill Bolling running for reelection as LG. But with Bolling already in the governor’s mansion, that leaves McDonnell running for reelection as AG, at best, and challenging Bolling for the nomination, at worst. Bolling would be a much weaker candidate for governor than McDonnell—he’s milquetoast next to McDonnell—which has got to be a big part of why Bolling stepped aside for McDonnell to run. Short of a challenge by McDonnell, Virginia Republicans would be stuck with Bolling as their ’09 candidate.
Better still, Virginia Republicans would regard Bolling’s ascension as a victory. Rather than understanding that they simply got lucky—that Kaine handed the governor’s office to Republicans—their dwindling core of true believers would genuinely believe that Bolling’s governorship means that the electorate is clamoring for their flat-earth vision of government. Which is, of course, precisely the opposite of the truth.
Remember this basic truth: when handed an opportunity, Virginia Republicans never fail to squander it utterly. The bigger the opportunity, the more devastating the damage to the party. Governor Bolling? Epic fail. I would fully expect the far-right wing of the party to be furious with Bolling in a matter of months.
The biggest reason why I think that Governor Bolling would be good for Virginia Democrats is that we’re getting too big for our britches. Urban Democrats are acting like we’ve got 60% of the electorate on board, when it’s more like 45%, at best. Victory after victory has made Democrats’ reclamation of the entire Virginia political field seem inevitable. And it is, as long as we don’t screw up. We’ve got to play like we’re three runs down, but I don’t think that Democrats in liberal population centers understand the need for that. Virginia Democrats need to understand that winning the governor’s seat is far from a sure thing. I can’t think of a better way to get that message across than actually losing that seat due to our own success in the form of Vice President Kaine.
This may well all be moot in hours or, at most, a few days. If Kaine doesn’t get the nod from Obama, that’s great—life will go on normally. But if he does, there’s no need for Democrats to tear out their hair—Kaine will go on to better things, and the DPVA will ultimately be better for it.