RICHMOND | Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine announced on Tuesday a campaign for the U.S. Senate that promises to break spending records, become fiercely competitive and capture national attention.
Mr. Kaine, so far the only Democratic contender for retiring Sen. Jim Webb's seat, could face former Sen. George Allen in what many are saying will be the marquee matchup of 2012. Having served as governor of Virginia, both men possess broad statewide name recognition, substantial fundraising abilities and national political connections.
While the race is still in the early stages, Mr. Kaine's DNC chairmanship and his close alliance with President Obama have already infused the race with national interest.
Mr. Obama began urging Mr. Kaine to run for the seat virtually the moment Mr. Webb announced he would retire next year — even though Mr. Kaine had publicly stated he didn't intend to run. He said he was enjoying his position as chairman of the DNC, which he assumed in 2009 during his final year as governor.
But the president's persuasion apparently worked. One day after Mr. Obama launched his own presidential campaign with an Internet video, Mr. Kaine did likewise in a two-minute clip that stresses his achievements in office.
"I'm running for United States Senate because America has big challenges and I'm convinced that Virginia has answers to help strengthen our nation," Mr. Kaine said in the video, posted at kaineforva.com.
If Virginia doesn't have the answers Mr. Kaine claims, political analysts at least agree the state's large segment of independent voters will sustain its reputation as a bellwether for the rest of the country.
That's especially true considering Mr. Kaine's national ties. Bob Holsworth, a former professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and frequent commentator on Virginia politics, said he expects the Senate race to go the way of the presidential race.
"It's hard for me to imagine that if Obama loses by 2 or 3 points that it will be possible for his DNC chairman to win in Virginia," Mr. Holsworth said. "Obama and Kaine have become political twins in some ways because of the last few years, and their fate is jointly linked."
Strategist Paul Goldman, who has worked on the campaigns of a number of Virginia Democrats, said it's hard for him to believe that Mr. Kaine didn't time his campaign launch with the president's announcement.
The seat is considered critical to Democrats' chances of holding the Senate next year.
Democrats or independents who support Democrats currently hold 23 of the 33 Senate seats up for election in 2012, and they will likely have to face some tough choices about how many of those races they can win.
In addition to Mr. Webb, three other Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent have announced they will retire, and most of those seats will have competitive races. By contrast, three Republicans have said they will not seek re-election, and just one of those seats — in Nevada — is likely to be competitive.
In Virginia, Democrats held the governor's office for eight years before Republicans scored major victories in the 2009 elections, sweeping the three top statewide races. Democrats still hold both U.S. Senate seats, but the House delegation is split 8-3 in favor of the GOP after November's elections.
A poll conducted in late February by the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Mr. Kaine and Mr. Allen with 47 percent apiece in a hypothetical matchup.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott is the only other Democrat said to be seriously considering running for the Democratic nomination.
Along with Mr. Allen, tea party favorite Jamie Radtke and Hampton Roads lawyer David McCormick also have declared their bids for the GOP nomination.
Other prospective Republican candidates include conservative firebrand Delegate Robert G. Marshall of Prince William County as well as Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors. Tim Donner, founder of Horizon Television in Great Falls, also is weighing a bid.
If the race comes down to a likely matchup between Mr. Kaine and Mr. Allen, Mr. Goldman gives Mr. Kaine a slight edge for his access to Mr. Obama's fundraising abilities and his holding public office more recently. Mr. Kaine served as Virginia governor from 2005 to 2009, while Mr. Allen's last political victory was in 2000.
But that advantage is very slight, Mr. Goldman said.
"There's no evidence right now that Kaine can put his name on the ballot and just go to sleep," Mr. Goldman said.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this story.
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