Glistening in Virginia: Governor Tim Kaine's Holy Grail
By Al Giordano
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, SEPTEMBER 26, 2008: On the night of November 2, 2004, Tim Kaine watched the presidential results roll in - a 262,217-vote margin of victory for George W. Bush in Virginia - but noticed something that caused him to go to bed "not feeling too badly": His fellow Democrat John Kerry had won in Fairfax County, the fast-growing northern county across the Potomac from Washington, DC.
Kaine, a former fair housing lawyer, Richmond city councilor and mayor, was Lieutenant Governor then - serving under then-Governor Mark Warner, in a land where the top officials are limited to one term apiece. "Fairfax is often a bellwether," Kaine - now governor - told The Field this afternoon during a sit-down in his office in Richmond. "It has one out of every seven voters in the state. My ‘holy grail' has been to make Virginia competitive in presidential politics, and seeing the Fairfax County results that night is when I knew that it could happen in 2008." On message, he added, "And Barack Obama's message is such a good message for Virginia."
Kaine beams when he says it. He's proud of what's happening in his state and clearly likes Obama, whom he decided to support in late 2006 after favorite son Warner ended his own presidential exploratory campaign. A week after Obama announced his candidacy in early 2007, Kaine endorsed him before any other statewide official outside of Illinois had done so.
"The Saturday after he announced in Springfield, Obama came to Richmond," Kaine remembered. "I endorsed him on the same steps of the old capitol where Jefferson Davis had asked Robert E. Lee to lead the war of the Confederacy." He added that in addition to having been impressed with Obama when he had come to Virginia to campaign for Kaine in '05 and Senator Jim Webb in '06, part of his motives were pragmatic and had to do with electability, his "holy grail" of seeing a Democratic presidential candidate put his state in play: "I thought Obama was the Democrat who could make it competitive in Virginia."
The governor noted that in 2004, the Kerry campaign had initially sent some staffers into Virginia but soon after pulled them out to send them to other states. The Obama campaign today has 44 offices staffed throughout the state. The one here in Richmond, alone, which your correspondent inspected today (amazing how bringing a couple of pizzas in to hungry volunteers can be oh so disarming and get one a chance to eyeball the innards of the beehive) has 11 fulltime staff "organizers."
Our interview came on the heels of the latest Rasmussen poll of Virginia voters:
Obama: 50 percent
Some other candidate: 2
Not sure: 3
(Rasmussen's previous poll, published last week, had McCain with 50 percent and Obama with 48.)
Kaine, by the way, knew the details of all the recent polling data off the top of his head. And when we discussed the possibility of a "reverse Bradley effect," like what occurred in February when Obama won a much greater percent of the Virginia primary vote than pollsters had forecasted, I mentioned a recent writing by Nate Silver and Kaine interrupted, "you mean fivethirtyeight.com!"
Kaine confessed that, "I check in with the Daily Kos and some other blogs at least once a day to hear the water-cooler conversations. As governor, if I go to a water cooler, everybody stops talking. On the blogs, I can listen without anybody knowing I'm there."
In Virginia, there's a razor-thin tightening of the Pollster.com average of all surveys (the red line represents McCain's support, the blue line, Obama's, since the beginning of the year):
Back to that 262,000+ vote margin of victory in Virginia for Bush in 2004: The Washington Post reported on September 16 that there were already 283,000 newly registered voters here.
According to The Post:
Virginia does not have party registration, but in almost every county and city with a history of supporting Democratic presidential candidates, the number of registered voters has increased by about 10 percent since Jan. 1.
Counties that have voted Republican recently are registering much lower percentages of voters, the statistics show.
In addition, 62 percent of new voters are younger than 35, and 42 percent are younger than 25, according to the state numbers.
And state elections officials have just printed 200,000 more voter registration forms that can be filled by October 6.
The Field asked the governor what steps had been taken to protect the vote and prevent overzealous local elections clerks or partisan operatives from blocking any voter, new or old, from casting ballots.
Kaine said that he appointed Nancy Rodrigues to the State Board of Elections, along with one Democrat and one Republican, to oversee the voting process. On the municipal level in Virginia, local election boards also have three members: two from the governor's party and one from the opposition. That means that on the local level in every district, the Democrats are in the driver's seat to settle any challenges or disputes over who can vote.
He said that a recent dust-up in Montgomery County, in which a "low level official" made a false claim that students voting in their college towns could lose financial aid or protection under their parent's health insurance plan had been countered by Rodriguez, as well as a similar misstep involving a local official in Norfolk. "When we find out about those kinds of instances, she contacts the local registrar to set things right."
Another notorious case of voter suppression came in Chesterfield County in 2004, when county registrar Larry Haake stationed armed guards at polling places, which many accused had been an attempt to intimidate voters. During the Democratic primary last February 12, Chesterfield ran out of ballots, and Rodrigues hammered him afterward. "He did a poor job on primary day," noted Kaine, opining that the Chesterfield official, now with his wings clipped, will be on the spot and have to be very careful to make for a fair election in November.
And so it seems that all systems are go for a fair fight on election day, putting Virginia yards ahead of so many other states in preventing the kinds of voter suppression shenanigans that have occurred in swing states like Florida and Michigan.
Part of our interview with Governor Kaine was conducted in Spanish (his press secretary, former newspaperman Gordon Hickey, commented, "well I guess I don't need to be here now," not having any idea over what was said). Kaine - who took a year off from Harvard Law School to work as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras from September 1980 to May 1981 - says that as governor, "I get to speak Spanish almost every day." During the presidential primary campaign, he delivered a speech for Obama at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria entirely in Castillian. (Northern Virginia has a fast-growing Spanish-speaking population, mostly of Central American descent, and downstate there's a burgeoning Mexican-American population.) The February 12 Virginia primary was the first in which exit polls showed Obama winning among Latinos in his contest with Senator Clinton.
We spoke about how when he was a fair housing lawyer, many problems of discrimination in housing came from the old practice of "redlining," as finance companies would deny loans to, say, houses "of a certain age" that just happened to correspond with minority populated neighborhoods.
And now, with the mortgage crisis sparking an overall economic crisis on Wall Street, instead of denying loans to members of racial and ethnic minorities, the sub-prime loan industry charged high interest rates to so many that should have qualified for traditional mortgages.
"Unregulated capitalism can really lead to short term gains at the expense of long term gains," Kaine told me. "Hey, I'm a capitalist, but you gotta have the right structural regulations."
Kaine is widely considered to have been second to Joe Biden in Obama's choice for a vice presidential nominee. I left his office - that of Virginia governor, a post first held by Patrick Henry and, later, by Thomas Jefferson... and, now, by Tim Kaine, whose term ends in 2009 - thinking about something that we didn't speak about, his future after November: This guy, I thought, would be a breath of fresh air and decency in a job like that of US Attorney General.