Zenith Fuel Systems plant manager Chet Zinnanti (center) talks with Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine (left) and Sen. Mark Warner at the plant in Bristol, Va., on Thursday.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Sen. Mark Warner likes to tell a joke when he’s on the trail with Tim Kaine, and lately he’s been telling it a lot.
The Virginia Democrat crisscrossed the state with his fellow former governor last week for a two-day, nine-stop tour. They ended the trek at a rally in this historic college town on Thursday, exactly one year after Kaine entered the race for the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D).
“So it is with great affection that I turn over the mike to my friend of 32 years ... and, with your help, the future junior Senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine,” Warner said, with an emphasis on “junior,” to a crowd of nearly 400 just before the sun set on the downtown pedestrian mall.
The remark invited a roar of laughter at the rally, as it did an hour earlier with a small gathering of community members at a nearby state workforce center, which both Democrats helped launch as governors in the past decade.
Warner is three years older than Kaine, preceded him as governor and now is working to help his fellow Harvard Law School graduate join him in the Senate. Warner will surely have a similarly strong presence on the trail in the waning weeks of Kaine’s expected general election matchup with George Allen (R), a former Senator and governor.
As well-known as both Kaine and Allen are, both are also counting on the help of the two most popular politicians in the state. Allen will soon have a strong surrogate of his own on the trail in Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), a possible vice presidential contender. Like Warner and Kaine, the two Republicans are old friends, and McDonnell is expected to help Allen as much as possible.
Warner’s effect on Kaine is twofold. He’s highly popular across the state, scoring a 62 percent job approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll last month, including 48 percent among Republicans and 66 percent among voters in the western part of the state, where Democrats have not performed well in recent years.
The first-term Senator also serves as a model for the kind of Senator that Kaine will be. Warner voted with his party an average of 91 percent of the time over three years in the Senate, according to CQ’s vote studies, but he’s also a member of the bipartisan “gang of six,” and the former businessman is remembered for working with Republicans as governor in the state Legislature nearly a decade ago to balance the commonwealth’s budget.