- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama returns Wednesday to the battleground state of Virginia, adding to speculation that Gov. Tim Kaine is still on his shortlist of running mates.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to hold town-hall meetings Wednesday in Martinsville and Lynchburg, and will stay in Virginia for events Thursday.

Mr. Obama will be joined in Martinsville by former Gov. Mark Warner and in Lynchburg by Sen. Jim Webb,considered vice presidential candidates until withdrawing themselves from consideration early in the campaigns.

Mr. Kaine has said he will not join Mr. Obama on Wednesday. However, the senator’s campaign said late Tuesday the governor will join Mr. Obama at a town-hall meeting on the economy in Chester on Thursday. Mr. Obama’s other appearance that day will be in Chesapeake.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to hold a rally on Saturday in Springfield, Ill., prior to the Democratic National Convention, also heightening speculation that he will announce his running mate there. The event will take place at the Old State Capitol, where the senator announced his candidacy 18 months ago.

Meanwhile, two of Virginia’s prominent Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that Sen. John McCain will carry the state in the presidential election, but acknowledged Mr. Obama would improve his chances for victory by selecting Mr. Kaine.

Sen. John W. Warner and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III - both of whom are retiring at the end of this congressional term - said Mr. Kaine has proven himself a capable governor and his selection by Mr. Obama would bring strength to the Illinois senator’s ticket in Virginia, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.

“You’d have to concede that having a governor from Virginia running on the ticket would be of some help to Obama in Virginia,” said Mr. Davis, who will retire following the completion of his seventh congressional term this year. “What happens outside that is a different issue.”

While acknowledging that Mr. Kaine would boost Mr. Obama’s chances in Virginia, Mr. Davis and Mr. Warner cited the governor’s lack of experience in the areas of national security and foreign affairs.

“At this point in time, it’s hard to see how he would bring strength to the ticket in the national security area, which I think the American public will be looking for in the selection,” said Mr. Warner, who was first elected to the Senate in 1978.

Mr. Warner also said that Mr. McCain’s vice presidential pick will be someone capable of being a “full working partner” in his administration. Speculation has swirled around a number of potential candidates for the Republican’s pick, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Mr. Davis said both candidates’ running mates will play a role in this year’s critical election, but that Mr. Obama’s choice may carry more weight since he is comparatively new to the national political scene.

“Voters tend to vote for the candidate for president,” Mr. Davis said. “But the [vice president] in this case, particularly for Senator Obama, will be more defining for him.”

Mr. Davis also said Virginia lawmakers are facing a probable budget shortfall that could top $1 billion, and said if Mr. Kaine traded the governor’s mansion for the campaign trail, he would be leaving his post in the hands of Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Both scenarios could prove detrimental to Virginia Democrats in next year’s gubernatorial race.

The Republican lawmakers said they are confident that Mr. McCain will do well in the Tidewater region with its strong military presence and “battleground” areas such as Loudoun and Prince William counties, which voted Democratic in the last gubernatorial and Senate elections.

Mr. Davis said polls shows Mr. McCain with “substantial leads” in Loudoun and Prince William, and that the Arizona senator’s reputation as a centrist and moderate Republican will appeal to voters in Northern Virginia areas.

But Mr. Davis said that same centrist appeal could help Mark Warner in his bid to replace John Warner against former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican. The two Warners are not related.

John Warner said he “wouldn’t concede any [area] at this time” to Mr. Obama.

“This is a good tight race,” he said. “I’m confident that we can carry it for McCain, but every vote counts.”

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