- - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

COME AGAIN?

Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder isn’t wild about Tim Kaine’s chances in the upcoming race for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Democrat Sen. Jim Webb.

“Some people have said he’s a shoo-in. I don’t believe that,” Mr. Wilder, a Democrat, said Tuesday about a hypothetical matchup between the undeclared Mr. Kaine, also a former Virginia governor, and the likely GOP candidate, former Virginia governor and Sen. George Allen.

Though nobody has suggested Mr. Kaine, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has an easy path to victory, the statement appears to start one of the most entertaining subplots of every Virginia campaign season: the Wilder endorsement watch.

In Virginia, a nod from the nation’s first black governor carries a lot of weight — as does its absence and timing.

In 2009, after months of anticipation, Mr. Wilder announced he had declined to endorse Democratic gubernatorial nominee R. Creigh Deeds — spurning a personal appeal from President Obama to offer his support.

He endorsed Mr. Kaine for governor in 2005 — but only in the last week of the campaign. Likewise for Mr. Webb, whom he endorsed near the close of the ‘06 Senate race.

Mr. Wilder said Mr. Kaine’s trump card in a potential race against Mr. Allen will be the full support of Mr. Obama, which would attract Virginia’s “fiercely independent voters.”

If Mr. Kaine goes head-to-head with Mr. Allen, who announced his candidacy in January, Mr. Wilder says, the race will be decided by Virginia’s substantial number of independent voters, whose intelligence should not be underestimated.

“The test will be two things,” he said. “Maintaining a base and continuing to attract independent voters.”

Paige Winfield Cunningham