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RICHMOND, Va. — The most loyal Virginia Democrats attending the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day fundraising dinner here claim they are willing to wait for Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine to make up his mind. Kaine promised Saturday night that he won't try their patience.
In the less than two weeks since Sen. Jim Webb decided against seeking re-election in 2012, Kaine has emerged as the favorite candidate of the White House and top state Democrats — but close confidants and former staffers say that he's not sure he wants to run.
"It's touching, it's gratifying, it's flattering and it's kind," Kaine said at the dinner to chants of "Run, Tim, run."
Kaine said he would be "reflecting" on the decision with his wife, Anne, and insisted he loves his job at the DNC.
"I'm going to make a decision soon," the former governor said. "Whatever decision I make, I'm confident that the next Senator from Virginia will be a Democrat."
The candidate who emerges is likely to face ex-Sen. George Allen, the Republican whom Webb unseated in 2006. Allen, also a former governor, spent his Saturday wooing a tea party group in Northern Virginia.
There was nothing subtle about the speeches from the podium Saturday night as Democrat after Democrat made the case for Kaine. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) did not mince words in a recorded video message to the party, "It is my hope that my friend of 30 years ... Tim Kaine decides to run for the seat."
When the chants started as he took the stage, Kaine quipped, "Not enough arm-twisting, I guess."
Introducing Kaine, Democratic Party Chairman and former state Del. Brian Moran told the crowd, "We don't know what he's going to do, but we know what he has done."
Should Kaine sit this one out, ex-Rep. Tom Perriello is a possible candidate. Perriello narrowly defeated a Republican in 2008 and lost his seat last fall. Several Democrats pushed their Draft Perriello effort at the dinner, and state lawmakers told Roll Call that while they would prefer Kaine, they think Perriello could also be competitive next year.
Perriello told Roll Call after the dinner that he wants Kaine to run but "would consider" his own bid if Kaine doesn't. But Perriello also said that having experienced politics, he's not sure whether he can have more effect inside or outside of politics.
"I know we'll still win the seat," he said.
But don't look to former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who lost the Democratic primary for governor in 2009. McAuliffe told Roll Call that he isn't interested in running for Senate.
"I'm an executive," he said as he showed off several electric cars in the convention center before the dinner began.
"It's not something I'm interested in," McAuliffe said. "I hope Tim runs. We've always got to be smart. It's about winning. George Allen had his try at it."
(Later when Maryland's governor and Democratic Governors Association Chairman Martin O'Malley delivered the dinner's keynote speech, he gave a shout-out to McAuliffe, who wants to run again for governor in 2013.)
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said that he thinks Democrats do not need to have a Senate candidate in place until July and that Webb "did everyone a favor" by announcing his retirement early in the cycle.
"Kaine won statewide twice," Scott said, referring to Kaine's runs for governor in 2005 and lieutenant governor in 2001. "He will not have a problem raising money or pulling together the organization."
"I hope Tim Kaine will do it. He gets first dibs," state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple said.
State Sen. Donald McEachin summed it up: "Everyone is waiting on Tim."