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Obama’s invitation to take over the job of DNC chairman must have been flattering to Kaine, and his willingness to do so may eventually get him a Cabinet post or other administration goodie. But it was a risky move politically for the former governor if he wanted to run again in the Commonwealth.
Of course, Kaine’s Obama connection isn’t automatically bad. If the economy rebounds or Congressional Republicans overplay their hand, the president could regain his popularity. And presidential year turnout among young people and African-Americans in the Old Dominion certainly would help Kaine if he becomes the Democratic nominee.
Still, Kaine’s service at the DNC changes his standing in a way that neither Warner nor Robb had to deal with when they ran for the Senate.
If not Kaine, who? Former Reps. Rick Boucher and Tom Perriello are two obvious names.
Boucher, who turns 65 later this year, served 14 terms in the House. He represented a southwestern Virginia district, meaning he would have to increase his visibility in the expensive D.C. media market and convince Northern Virginia voters that they should be enthusiastic about his candidacy.
While he sometimes diverged from party orthodoxy, including voting against the Democrats’ health care reform bill and earning high marks from the National Rifle Association, his lengthy record would be fodder for Republicans in a general election.
Perriello, who represented a district that stretched from Charlottesville to the North Carolina border, is more liberal than the state (he supported the stimulus, health care reform and cap-and-trade), but he’s demonstrated that he can put together a strong campaign and is an energetic candidate.
The 36-year-old one-term Congressman would be able to draw clear contrasts with the GOP nominee, and he could benefit from strong, presidential-year turnout among the groups previously mentioned, as he did when he won in 2008.
But Democrats could also look for someone who has never held office and therefore could, at least initially, avoid being pigeonholed ideologically.
I don’t have anyone particular in mind, but then again, I had never heard of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) or Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) before they entered their races last cycle, and Democratic Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) and Herb Kohl (Wis.) initially came out of nowhere to win Senate seats.
If Kaine runs and is truly motivated, he certainly can win. But that depends on the shape of the political environment, the dynamics of the presidential race and the Republican nominee.
Still, Democrats should be realistic about Kaine, and looking at him through rose-colored glasses isn’t the way to do that.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.