RICHMOND | While Republican George Allen is hammering Washington spending as he campaigns for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine is mounting the lectern and taking a pointer in hand.
Mr. Kaine kicked off his campaign pledging to instruct Washington in the ways of Virginia, as he faces the challenge of running as head of the party that took a beating in the midterm elections.
Virginia offers federal lawmakers lessons in economic prosperity, fiscal responsibility and a tradition of balance and civility, the former Virginia governor and recent Democratic National Committee chairman told reporters Wednesday, a day after he formally announced his bid for the seat of Democrat Sen. Jim Webb, who is retiring.
"I think we are doing some things here that we can do better [nationally] if we follow Virginias lessons," Mr. Kaine said.
In more than two years as DNC chairman, Mr. Kaine has had to defend President Obamas sometimes unpopular policies that cost Democrats six Senate seats and 63 House seats in November. Its also no secret that the president played an instrumental role in convincing him to run for the seat, urging him repeatedly over the past few months.
Mr. Allen, whose campaign has attempted to capitalize on popular dissatisfaction with federal deficit spending, was quick to pounce on Mr. Kaines national party affiliations shortly after his Tuesday announcement.
"As chairman, Kaine stood with his liberal Washington allies like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as they imposed their harmful agenda on Virginia and America, making trillion-dollar deficits the norm and loading our children with the burden of an unprecedented national debt," Mr. Allen said, referring to the Senate majority leader from Nevada and former House speaker from California.
But Mr. Kaine isnt backing away from his party connections.
He said he was never asked in his DNC role to say things he didnt believe. And he didnt deny that hes a friend and supporter of the president.
When asked to outline where he disagrees with Mr. Obama, Mr. Kaine came up empty-handed.
"Im not thinking of my candidacy as where do I differ from the president," he said. "My focus is really just on doing the same kinds of things Ive done in state and local office and bringing some of the lessons Ive learned to Washington."
For his accomplishments, Mr. Kaine listed a litany of rankings Virginia acquired during his term as governor, reflecting its pro-business, well-managed reputation. He talked about investments in education, attracting international business to the state and creating a balanced tax and regulatory climate.
And since he is running - like Mr. Allen - on a platform of creating jobs and improving the economy, he had a ready explanation as to how a spike in Virginias unemployment rate from 3.4 percent to 7.3 percent while governor contributes to his qualifications for senator.
"I think were in crisis in terms of our competitive relationship in the rest of the world," Mr. Kaine said. "If you want somebody who can handle crisis, put someone in who dealt with crisis."
Democrats and Republicans are lining up on either side of the question of whether Mr. Kaines association with Mr. Obama and the DNC bodes well or poorly for his campaign.
State Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw said it "doesnt matter one whit."
"If a guy who was chairman of the DNC for three years doesnt have a Rolodex to beat the band, I dont know who does," Mr. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, said.
But Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, said Mr. Kaine will have to answer for his connections - and it wont be easy.
Like other observers of the race, Mr. Bolling said he thought Mr. Kaine enjoyed his DNC position too much to run, if not for the urging of the president. Mr. Kaine is a "reluctant warrior," he said.
"The last two years, hes been the chief apologist for Barack Obamas failed policies," Mr. Bolling said. "Obama and Tim Kaine are joined at the hip."
Mr. Kaine doesnt deny his connection to Mr. Obama could prove detrimental if the presidents popularity suffers during the campaign - not only because of his close connections to Mr. Obama, but also because of Virginias status as a bellwether state in national politics.
But he said he likes his chances "within the framework" of how Mr. Obamas campaign fares.
"If youre not competitive and relevant in presidential politics, youre actually not that competitive in politics at all," Mr. Kaine said. "Virginia is a microcosm. It means that if anybody wants to achieve high office, they have to come and speak directly to Virginians."
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