Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said one could tell a lot about how he would govern if one considered his three heroes: his father, his father-in-law and close friend Brother Jim O’Leary.
Mr. Kaine’s father, Al, owned an iron-welding shop, a job that taught him the value of hard work and how to run a small business, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee tells voters.
His father-in-law, former Virginia Gov. A. Linwood Holton, illustrated the importance of bipartisanship and doing the right thing with his role in desegregating the state’s schools, Mr. Kaine said. Mr. Holton served as a Republican governor in the early 1970s when Democrats controlled the General Assembly.
And Brother O’Leary, a Jesuit missionary, taught Mr. Kaine about public service when a 22-year-old Mr. Kaine spent a year as a Christian missionary in El Progreso, Honduras.
“Being far from home caused me to question my faith and my place in the world for the first time,” said Mr. Kaine.
Mr. Kaine, 47, who grew up in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan., and finished college at the University of Missouri in three years, was among the youngest in his Harvard Law School class. He took a year off to teach poor teens in Honduras carpentry and welding. Brother O’Leary was with Mr. Kaine every step of the way.
“As I have grown older, and reflected on Jim’s life, I have realized that doing good is not really complicated,” Mr. Kaine said.
Brother O’Leary died in 2002. Last year, Mr. Kaine and his wife, for their 20th wedding anniversary, visited his mentor’s grave in Honduras.
In his campaign speeches, Mr. Kaine always mentions Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat with whom Mr. Kaine has worked side by side since 2002. Mr. Warner’s popularity hovers at 75 percent in most statewide polls.
Mr. Kaine refers to the successes of the “Warner-Kaine” administration, and is campaigning on the $1.38 billion tax increase the Republican-controlled legislature passed last year and Mr. Warner championed, calling it a critical investment in schools, health care and public safety.
“Do you want Virginia to go forward or do you want it to go backward?” Mr. Kaine said at a recent debate during which he accused his main opponent, Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, of “standing against us.”
Mr. Kilgore, the former attorney general, says he is proud that he opposed the tax package, but Mr. Kaine sees that opposition as blocking progress.
Mr. Warner doesn’t seem to mind Mr. Kaine piggybacking on his popularity. “Together, we looked at the breakdown of civility in Richmond, and we were determined to do better,” the governor said in a recent three-page fundraising letter. In it, Mr. Warner used the word “we” 21 times.
The governor has praised Mr. Kaine as a partner during tough decisions and in funding education and the expansion of the state’s children’s health initiative. “I know who was there fighting side by side with us making these things happen,” he said.
At the centerpiece of Mr. Kaine’s campaign is a proposal to offer pre-kindergarten to all Virginia four-year-olds.
Mr. Kaine is no stranger to politics. He served as a Richmond City Council member from 1994 to 2001. He was mayor for four of those years.
The city has had its share of problems though, from high crime rates and poor performing schools to corruption, and Mr. Kilgore blames Mr. Kaine. “We don’t need a mediocre mayor serving as our governor,” Mr. Kilgore said.
But Mr. Kaine said that as mayor he cut the murder rate, built the first new schools in a generation and reduced the property tax rate — even though rising assessments caused bills to increase.
Mr. Kilgore also has criticized Mr. Kaine’s stand on the death penalty and abortion. Mr. Kaine said that as a Roman Catholic he is morally opposed to both practices, but that as governor he would uphold the law and sign death warrants.
“I don’t apologize for my religious belief, and I’m not going to change my religion to get elected,” he said.
When asked whether he would try to end the death penalty in Virginia, Mr. Kaine said he will not use clemency powers in any unusual way. “I’m not going to spend my time fighting a quixotic battle that I can’t win,” he said.
But Mr. Kilgore has accused Mr. Kaine, who once called for a moratorium on the death penalty in Virginia, of sending mixed messages on both issues.
Mr. Kilgore also is running emotional attack ads highlighting Mr. Kaine’s personal opposition to the death penalty.