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.
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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.”
He wrote that while supporting democracy in tough conditions is “noble,” the need to “acknowledge the interconnected world, and bring more allies along with us, is critical.”
The 2006 note also lays out his opposition to a troop withdrawal timetable, a document opposition researchers will love should Mr. Kaine be chosen.
“They are working in tandem with Iraqis on most of their missions, and they reconfirmed my belief that a forced timetable for withdrawal from Iraq is a policy that would neither serve the United States nor Iraq well,” Mr. Kaine wrote. “An eventual withdrawal is inevitable, but its timing must be predicated on the training of the Iraqi police and military, until they are prepared to assume the responsibility for the safety of their communities and country.”
More than 7,000 Virginians were deployed, and Mr. Kaine was the most in-demand man on the trip, Mr. Guinn said, describing him as “down to earth” and an “open-minded person, willing to listen to what you have to say.”
Mr. Kaine wrote that he welcomed the notes from the troops and said, “the opportunity to talk to families about how well their loved ones are doing is not nearly so heavy a task” as the condolence letters he has hand-signed to Virginians who have lost someone in combat.
Mr. Kaine, the son of an iron welder, had an unlikely rise to state prominence.
He was a Richmond City Council member from 1994 to 2001, serving as mayor for four of those years. Under his watch, the crime-ridden city saw its murder rate decline and the city opened its first new schools in a generation.
He became the nominee for lieutenant governor after Democrat Emily Couric was diagnosed with cancer and withdrew from the race before passing away the next year. Mr. Kaine barely beat his Republican rival but was elected along with Democrat Mark Warner.
He served four years as lieutenant governor, a part-time job that allowed him to drive his red pickup truck to the state Capitol grounds each day to perform duties similar to those of a vice president.
Republicans say he rode Mr. Warner’s coattails as he campaigned on the “Warner-Kaine” record.
Mr. Kaine’s key gubernatorial campaign promises - transportation improvements and universal pre-kindergarten - have never materialized, in part because his agenda has been blocked by Republican legislators.
But Mr. Kaine led the state in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre, the biggest national tragedy since Hurricane Katrina. The state still ranks as one of the best managed in the nation and he helped Senate Democrats recapture the chamber last fall. He is well-liked by members of both parties even though his popularity ratings have taken a dive.
Some Virginia Republicans are licking their chops, happy to reprise their 2005 attacks if Mr. Kaine is chosen.
For example, Mr. Kaine received an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association and was frequently hit in his race against Republican Jerry Kilgore for having used Richmond taxpayer dollars to send citizens to the Million Mom March for gun control.
Mr. Obama is fond of saying he is “skinny but tough,” and Mr. Kaine adopts the same attitude, telling reporters when his campaign began in January 2005, “I’m not going to be anybody’s punching bag.”
It was an ugly race remembered most for the ads Mr. Kilgore ran attacking Mr. Kaine for opposing the death penalty.
The Democrat used a similar rapid-response fashion to how Team Obama now operates, hitting back in an ad that explained his personal death-penalty opposition in terms of his Catholicism, and promising he would not block executions.
Since winning the race 52 percent to 46 percent, Mr. Kaine has mostly kept that promise. He has commuted one death sentence and vetoed a death-penalty-expansion bill, but executions have gone on in Virginia at the rate of about three per year - a comparable pace to what happened under the Warner administration.
The nasty 2005 race could prove to be a plus for Mr. Obama, as Virginia Republicans say they used all the dirty laundry they could dig up on him three years ago.
At the Kaine fundraiser in the Clarendon Ballroom on July 20, 2005, Mr. Obama lauded the Democrat for understanding American values that were “born out of a hardworking family that understood the meaning of building a small business.”
Mr. Kaine beamed and joked that because their families are from the same small town in Kansas, “We may be related,” and the senator later told reporters Mr. Kaine is “a candidate of my own heart who speaks to my heart.”
Mr. Kaine returned the favor as an early Obama backer who became a close confidant entrusted with hosting campaign events across the country.
Mr. Obama told Virginia voters in June his friend “has the courage of his convictions” and “proves that nice guys can finish first.”
Mr. Kaine’s stock rose when Mr. Obama recently described his ideal No. 2 as an independent thinker who shares his vision that Washington must change. He also is probably looking for someone who can keep his cool, an attribute Mr. Obama often says was one of his most important lessons and a trait Mr. Kaine’s friends say is his best.
The weekend before Virginians chose him as their next governor and as his staffers nervously buzzed around counting the remaining hours, Mr. Kaine took a moment for a walk. In the early morning hours, he and his son, Nat, stood under a light drizzle to gaze from the state’s westernmost corner over the Kentucky valley at Breaks Interstate Park.
He quietly reflected and warmly embraced his son. Even though a few reporters tagged along for the exercise, there was a moment he was no longer a candidate. He was just a dad.