Governor Kaine to Become DNC Chairman
From: Garry S. Shay, Member, Democratic National Committee (CA) and
Lead Chair Rules Committee, California Democratic Party
Titles for identification purposes only
Va. Governor Kaine to Become DNC Chairman
By Michael D. Shear, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, January 4, 2009; 4:35 PM
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will become chairman of the Democratic National Committee later this month, serving as the top political messenger forBarack Obama's administration even while he finishes his final year in the governor's mansion, several sources said.
Kaine, who emerged as one of Obama's vice presidential finalists this summer, will operate from Richmond in a part-time capacity until January 2010, when he will become the full-time DNC chairman. Kaine is constitutionally barred from running for reelection.
A personal friend of the president-elect, Kaine is a gregarious chief executive who is known to relish political combat and helped put Virginia in the Democratic column for the first time in almost 50 years.
Obama transition aides declined to comment today, and Kaine aides did not return calls seeking comment. Two sources said Obama will announce his choice of Kaine for the post later this week.
The decision will make Kaine a regular face on Sunday morning talk shows and cable news programs during his final year in office. Obama plans to install a veteran operative to run the DNC's day-to-day operations, including fundraising. But it will be Kaine's job to defend Obama against the Republicans, who are struggling to find their voice after losing the White House and control of Congress.
It will also make Kaine an irresistible target in his home state among critics who have long accused him of putting partisan politics ahead of governing. State GOP leaders are sure to accuse the governor of doing what he said he would not: shift his attention away from a state during a budget crisis that demands swift action.
Also this year, Virginians will choose Kaine's successor in a race that has already become contentious for Democrats. Former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, a longtime adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton, announced in an Internet videoSaturday that he intends to run for governor, pitting him against two Democratic state lawmakers in a June primary.
A former civil rights lawyer, Kaine was thought to be a strong contender for a number of positions in Obama's Cabinet, including attorney general. But the governor effectively removed himself from consideration by telling Obama that he intended to finish out his four-year term.
Obama raised the idea of Kaine leading the Democratic Party before the election, source said. Kaine rejected those initial overtures, telling reporters just after Obama's victory: "That's not something I'm going to do."
"I don't view that, frankly, as consistent with being governor, so I'm going to be governor," Kaine said at a Richmond news conference about the state's finances. "I would view it as taking my eye too much off the ball about things that need to happen here."
But sources said Obama returned to the idea late last month, pressuring Kaine to take the job.
For Obama, Kaine will be a true loyalist who can carry out the new president's political agenda during the upcoming battles over the economy, foreign policy, health care and the environment. Kaine was one of the very first governors to endorse Obama after forging a close relationship during Kaine's 2005 governor's race.
Kaine traveled frequently for Obama during the presidential campaign, serving as a willing attack dog for his candidate. On one cable news program, Kaine memorably said of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): "He couldn't count high enough, apparently, to even know how many houses he owned."
After being called "able but undistinguished" by Bush strategist Karl Rove, Kaine scathingly responded that "maybe to Karl Rove and his friends, government performance, competent administration, being able to respond to an emergency isn't important. To Virginians, it's important."
But Kaine's decision to become the national party chair is fraught with political risks for him. Former Virginia governors have often seen their popularity plummet after appearing to be more interested in Washington than their job in Richmond.
Former governor James S. Gilmore III was criticized for becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee in his final year in office. Gilmore feuded with Rove and left the job after only a year.
And former governor L. Douglas Wilder left office with an approval rating of just 39 percent after running unsuccessfully for president.
Kaine was elected to the Commonwealth's top job in 2005, succeeding former governor Mark R. Warner. He remains popular, with job approval ratings in the mid-50s, though his sky-high, mid-70s ratings came in his first year.
His campaign promises of universal pre-school, common-sense land use policies and improved funding for roads have largely fizzled. The expensive pre-school program has been put off as the state's finances have soured. The land-use changes ran into opposition from homebuilders. And the road funding bill he signed was declared unconstitutional by the state's highest court.
But as the leader of the state's Democratic party, he has been a huge success. During his governorship, the party seized control of the state Senate, added members to the House of Delegates and switched two Republican U.S. senators to Democrats.
Perhaps the most stunning political achievement was Obama's victory in Virginia -- the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has won the commonwealth since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
That was in part the result of forces that Kaine had nothing to do with: a stunningly effective Obama ground game, long-term demographic shifts in the Virginia electorate, and the overall economic situation in the country, which helped Obama everywhere.
But Kaine gets credit for helping to orchestrate the victory -- his former campaign manager, Mike Henry, helped run the statewide coordinated campaign for Obama and other Democrats -- and for pushing Obama to believe it was possible when most political observers expressed doubt.