- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine accepted the reins at the Democratic National Committee on Thursday, vowing to expand recent Democratic successes and, despite being the party’s top partisan, stress solutions, not ideology.

President-elect Barack Obama formally announced Thursday that he had chosen his friend Mr. Kaine for the chairman position, currently held by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

The Democratic president-elect said Mr. Kaine, who turns 50 next month, is uniquely qualified to “remake the Democratic Party to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Each man spoke about a post-ideology vision, and Mr. Obama said they share a “pragmatic progressive philosophy.”

Mr. Kaine, who is in his last year as governor, was one of Mr. Obama’s early endorsers and was a chief adviser and campaigner during the election. He was a finalist when Mr. Obama was considering running mates.

He said he will follow Mr. Dean’s lead to see the Democrats are “a party that plays everywhere” and said he would use the same model at the DNC that Virginia Democrats have used to make major gains in recent years.

“In Virginia, we’ve rejected the politics of negativity, the politics that, you know, often energizes the 51 percent by beating up on the 49 percent, and instead try to unify people,” Mr. Kaine said, a similar theme he evoked in his successful 2005 gubernatorial race.

Mr. Obama said the party must not rest on its successes in the past two national elections, but instead strengthen “the movement we’ve built.”

Mr. Kaine said he has three goals in the new role: to be a “passionate and positive promoter” of Mr. Obama’s agenda, to “carry the proud banner of a proud party” and to “creatively engage citizens in new ways.” Mr. Kaine, wearing a red and blue striped tie, offered no partisan hits at Republicans, saying Virginia Democrats are not ideologues but rather problem-solvers.

Mr. Obama thanked Mr. Dean for his “outstanding” work leading the DNC through two elections, saying he “deserves enormous credit for helping usher in” change to Washington and leaves the party in a strong position.

He also slipped in a compliment for his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who led the House Democrats in the 2006 cycle and sometimes sparred with Mr. Dean.

Some Democrats initially scoffed at Mr. Dean’s 50-state strategy, but it paid off in 2006 when the party regained control of Congress in part because of victories in states such as Kentucky and North Carolina.

Mr. Obama built upon the idea, and captured such states as Virginia and Indiana that had been voting for Republicans for decades.

The members of the DNC will vote on Mr. Kaine’s position Jan. 21, one day after Mr. Obama is inaugurated, in what is likely a pro forma vote.

California DNC member Ed Espinoza praised Mr. Kaine as a “competent and strong choice.”

“Coming from a battleground state, he has a good grasp of what Democrats need to do to win in swing states,” he said, adding that the Kaine-Obama friendship will help party business run smoothly.

Mr. Espinoza said he appreciates that he comes from a state with a significant rural population, an area the national party still needs to rally.

Democracy for America posted an online petition urging grass-roots volunteers to appeal to Mr. Kaine to retain the Dean strategy, noting: “It’s time to make sure Gov. Kaine knows that without organizers on the ground right now opportunities may be missed to keep Republicans on their heels.”

Mr. Dean said Mr. Kaine is the “right choice” to lead the party in a new era.

“Democrats have made great gains over the past four years, but we know we still have work to do to ensure that we keep America moving forward as we support President-elect Obama’s agenda to address the critical issues facing our country,” he said.

They offered no details about how the work of the DNC will be structured. Obama top campaign aide Jennifer O’Malley Dillon will be in charge of the DNC’s day-to-day operations as executive director.

In addition to leading the party, Mr. Kaine will remain governor until his term ends next January. A hotly contested Democratic primary battle is brewing among former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, former House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran and State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds.

The governor has remained neutral in the fight.

Virginia has been trending blue for several years as the Washington suburbs grow. The shift began in 2001 with the election of Democrat Mark Warner and continued with Mr. Kaine’s win in 2005, state legislative gains, two Senate wins and the flipping of three Republican Congressional seats this fall.

Virginia Republicans criticized Mr. Kaine for taking the job, saying that he is breaking a promise that he wasn’t interested in a post in the administration and that he will work now only to advance Democratic proposals.

“Now is not a time for more partisanship from our governor, but a time for leadership, to cross party lines and provide solid, common-sense solutions for Virginians who are hurting and worried about their future,” said state Republican Party Chairman Jeffrey M. Frederick, a state delegate from Prince William County.

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