- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2006

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine faces a delicate challenge as the man tasked with the official Democratic rebuttal to President Bush’s State of the Union address tomorrow night.

Mr. Kaine won the gubernatorial race in the fall by promising to govern in the same bipartisan spirit deployed by Gov. Mark Warner. But several members of the Republican-controlled Virginia legislature think Mr. Kaine should have declined the invitation to avoid being put in a tough spot with an opposing party.

“He’s taken a great risk in accepting this responsibility,” said Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, Fairfax Republican, who is married to U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican. “If he attacks the president, certainly he will alienate many Republicans in the House and the Senate.”

Mrs. Davis said that Mr. Kaine is busy with the legislative session and shouldn’t be “sidetracked” by national matters.

The governor will have been in office just 18 days when he delivers the live, nationally televised response.

Mr. Kaine said Friday that his one condition of accepting the Democratic leaders’ offer was to have “complete editorial control” over the rebuttal’s content.

“I’m not anybody’s mouthpiece or shill or poster boy. I’m going to say what I think needs to be said, and they are comfortable with that,” he said.

Mr. Kaine said the rebuttal would be authentic to his personality and “upbeat and positive.”

He was not concerned about the speech appearing too partisan and said that he is confident he can work with Republican legislators in the coming weeks to craft a solution to transportation, his key issue.

“We’re all big boys in this life,” Mr. Kaine said. “We work hard for our teams. President Bush worked for his team, came in and campaigned against me, and that’s the way the system works. That’s the way it ought to work.”

Mr. Bush made an election-eve campaign stop on behalf of Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, who lost to Mr. Kaine in a state that solidly voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Virginia last supported a Democratic presidential nominee in 1964 and has been considered a firm Republican state ever since.

Mr. Warner, who has presidential ambitions, was elected in 2001, in part by reaching out to conservatives and independents. Mr. Warner was the first Democrat to be elected as governor after two Republicans held that post in the 1990s.

Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax Republican, said national Democrats chose Mr. Kaine, who is viewed as an “unknown,” to highlight their second consecutive gubernatorial victory in Virginia.

“I think that the Democratic National Committee is trying to break into the red state-blue state issue and using Virginia as proof that they are making inroads into the so-called red states,” he said. “It almost doesn’t matter what he says. It’s where he’s coming from and the geopolitical statement more than his personal statement.”

Several centrist Republicans said privately that they have spoken with Mr. Kaine about tempering his remarks if he wants to have a successful General Assembly session this year.

Mr. Kaine said bipartisanship will be a main theme in his rebuttal because he thinks that is key to achieving legislative results and not “partisan gridlock.”

“You can get a lot of things done if you’re not bitterly partisan or too much into the negative campaigning,” he said. “There’s a better way than what is happening at the national level right now.”

Mrs. Davis said it will be difficult for Mr. Kaine to remain neutral in such a speech.

“I don’t know how you maintain your bipartisanship when you are making contrary statements about the Republican president of the United States,” she said. “He’s a smart man, and I’m sure he will do his best.”

Others said the rebuttal is part of the normal “give and take” of politics.

“Tim Kaine has shown a willingness to work across party lines,” said Democratic Party of Virginia Chairman C. Richard Cranwell. “I don’t think making a response to a State of the Union message is going to change that ability.”

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