- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

Newly inaugurated Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will deliver the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union address later this month.

Mr. Kaine, who took office last weekend, accepted the offer that was extended by party leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada.

“They have asked, and we have agreed,” said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the governor. “Governor Kaine is flattered and pleased that he can hold Virginia up as an example of progress.”

Mr. Bush is expected to deliver the annual State of the Union Jan. 31.

After Mr. Bush’s speech, Mr. Kaine will speak about the “Democratic vision that focuses on the priorities of all Americans,” Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid said in a statement.

They said Mr. Kaine has been “a champion for working families, putting their priorities above the needs of the special interests.”

“The success of his positive message in Virginia is indicative of the resonance of Democratic values with the American people,” the leaders said. “His vision of increasing economic opportunity, affordable education and fiscal responsibility will help Virginia prosper for years to come and sets a leadership example for the rest of the country.”

Mr. Kaine was inaugurated Saturday and already has given two speeches that were televised statewide. Mr. Kaine will give the Democratic rebuttal from Richmond, Mr. Hall said.

Party leaders said they think Mr. Kaine will remind the nation that Democrats can win in so-called conservative “red” states. Mr. Kaine scored a decisive victory in November, defeating Republican Jerry W. Kilgore and independent candidate H. Russell Potts Jr.

So far, Mr. Kaine mostly has avoided making statements about national political issues, particularly the war in Iraq.

During his first address to the full state Legislature Monday night, Mr. Kaine talked about his priorities for transportation and education, but did not mention national politics.

Mr. Kaine, however, asked the legislators to give a standing ovation to the nation’s troops serving worldwide and asked that they set aside more money in the state budget for veterans services.

In recent years, the rebuttals have been delivered by governors and party leaders, including Democratic Govs. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Gary Locke of Washington state. In 1995, Republican New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman responded to President Clinton’s address.

Yesterday’s announcement came a month after rumors began swirling about the possibility of Mr. Kaine’s offering the Democratic rebuttal.

The rumors began when Time magazine reporter Mike Allen mentioned Mr. Kaine on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

During a panel discussion with other reporters on the show, Mr. Allen said some Democrats wanted the rebuttal to be offered by U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and a Marine veteran who has called for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Mr. Allen said he expected that Democrats would look for a “new face,” like Mr. Kaine.

Meanwhile, Virginians are pondering the possibility that two of their former governors might run for president in 2008.

Former Gov. Mark Warner, who completed his term last weekend, is expected to seek the Democratic nomination. U.S. Sen. George Allen, who served as governor in the 1990s, is considered an early favorite for the Republican presidential nomination.

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