Two months into his governorship, Tim Kaine surprised his Virginia constituents by touring Iraq and Afghanistan - a visit where troops pushed more than 150 pieces of paper into his hands with messages to bring back home.
He was one of four governors - two Democrats, two Republicans - to see the war zone over the five-day trip.
“There were no politics,” remembers Republican Kenny Guinn, Nevada’s former governor. “We really didn’t talk about whether we were for the war or against it as we were face to face and side by side with each other. Instead, we talked mainly about our states and the importance of working with Washington, D.C., and getting things done.”
Mr. Kaine’s governing style and easygoing demeanor have resulted in substantial speculation and serious consideration for the vice- presidential slot on the fall ticket with Sen. Barack Obama. Democrats who know how the 50-year-old Virginian might rank in the process are mum, but the decision will come this month.
The men, both Harvard-educated civil-rights lawyers by trade, have long shown each other affection.
“Tim Kaine has a message of fiscal responsibility and generosity of spirit. That kind of message can sell anywhere,” Mr. Obama told The Washington Times in July 2005 after a Kaine fundraiser. He’d just penned a $10,000 check for “my man, Tim Kaine,” who then was Virginia’s lieutenant governor.
Mr. Obama’s support helped Mr. Kaine later that year win the race that would go down as the most contentious and expensive in the state’s history. But it also marked the start of a deep friendship that could lead to a political partnership for the White House.
There are pluses - Mr. Kaine is Catholic, is from a red state, grew up in the Midwest, speaks fluent Spanish and is a Washington “outsider.” And there are minuses - he hasn’t accomplished much, he hasn’t served that long, he’s not very well-known.
But a closer look at each man shows they have much in common, and if Mr. Obama opts for someone that he views as a kindred spirit of sorts, Mr. Kaine will surely be at the top of the list.
Mr. Kaine agreed he and Mr. Obama share a style that uses religion on the campaign trail in an interview with The Times last year.
“The way I tend to look at this is that the bigger lesson for candidates is to share your motivation with people,” he said. “If faith is your motivation, share that. Authenticity is key.”
While Democrats like this comfort in talking about religion on the campaign trail, detractors see Mr. Kaine as a bad choice because he has no foreign-policy experience.
That’s where the rarely mentioned trip to Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan could help, as the governor could remind voters he leads the Virginia National Guard and tout his experience serving as a missionary in Honduras.
Mr. Kaine wrote on his Web site after the trip that as “the world’s great international power,” the nation’s successes and mistakes “take on massive proportions.”