Tim Kaine plays the harmonica for a packed house at the Floyd Country Store during a campaign event last month in Floyd, Va.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With an address to the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine enthusiastically embraced President Barack Obama's agenda and record - the same one that Republicans have worked for more than a year to connect him with.
"We have got to move forward," Kaine told the delegate-packed convention hall. "Because while we've made progress, we still have a long way to go. And we'll only get there if we elect leaders who put results over ideology. I support President Obama because he's that kind of a leader."
Kaine is running against fellow former Gov. George Allen (R) for the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D) in a state vital to both parties' hopes of winning the White House and the Senate majority.
Allen, running for the seat he lost in 2006, has said on the campaign trail that Kaine would be a "rubber-stamp" for the president, the National Republican Senatorial Committee refers to Kaine as Obama's "No. 1 cheerleader," and GOP-aligned outside groups such as Crossroads GPS have run ads highlighting Kaine's support for the 2009 stimulus package.
After working under the president for more than a year as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and as the first governor outside Illinois to endorse Obama's first bid for president, separating himself from the president was always an unlikely path for Kaine. Indeed, he has appeared with Obama several times on the campaign trail this year, including last week in the college town of Charlottesville.
Speaking with reporters after the Virginia delegation breakfast on Tuesday at a hotel near the Charlotte airport, Kaine said that unlike Allen, he will work with the president next year whether it's Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
"I support the president, and I think Virginians want the president to succeed," Kaine said. "When my opponent started to put these billboards up, 'Tim Kaine, Obama's Senator, Not Virginia's,' I looked at it and thought, 'Wow, is it really anti-Virginian to support the president of the United States?'"
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told Roll Call after the breakfast that it was a faulty assumption by the GOP that Kaine's ties to Obama and the DNC were a liability. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association has hardly hurt his approval ratings, and Obama has actually led in Virginia polling all year, he said.
"So actually Obama is an asset, not a liability," Connolly said. "Every time they remind people of that association, I think it helps Tim Kaine."
American Crossroads, a GOP-aligned super PAC, is working to chop down Obama's small lead in the state. It launched a 30-second TV ad Wednesday, backed by a $1.1 million investment and running for 10 days, that attacks Obama on the economy and his health care law.
Allen senior strategist Dan Allen said Kaine "earned his title as chairman" by advocating for Obama's policies, and he indicated that will continue to be a major storyline in the race.
"A lot of the people who are going to decide this race are not looking favorably at what Washington has produced over the past several years or saying, 'Well, we want another four years of that,'" Dan Allen said. "That's what Tim Kaine is being a vocal champion of."
Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters at the convention Tuesday that the DSCC is "going to hold George Allen accountable for his record as a Senator" and in many cases "treat him as if he were an incumbent." The DSCC has $8.1 million in fall TV time reserved in Virginia, and the NRSC has about $5.5 million reserved there so far.
"I think that if you look at the third-party ads, particularly on the Democratic side, we are unafraid to draw the contrast on debt, deficit, budget and spending in the comparison between Tim Kaine and George Allen, and we think we can actually win the argument there," Cecil said.
In response, National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said Kaine "has been the No. 1 cheerleader in Washington for the Democrats' failed liberal agenda of reckless spending, bigger government and 43 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent. So if Democrats want to make this a race about each candidates' record, then by all means bring it on."
Kaine's convention speech wasn't a game-changing event, but his connection to the national party and its policies will play a role in which candidate wins the majority of sought-after independent voters. Still, Kaine said Tuesday morning that he'll continue to highlight the successes of both his tenure as governor and the president's record of accomplishments.
"We focus on the results, we get results and then people trust us and want to keep us in place," Kaine said.