In the debut debate yesterday in his Senate race against George Allen, Tim Kaine offered a clear reminder of why Barack Obama came very close to picking him as his running mate in 2008 -- he is about as loyal a defender as Obama could ask for. This is not much of a surprise -- I remember meeting with Kaine at the Democratic convention in Denver and being struck by just how strong his identification with Obama was. The two men share their bookishness (Kaine likes to wax on about the tomes he's reading) and their service instinct (Obama was a community organizer, Kaine left law school for a year to serve as a Catholic missionary for a Jesuit order in Honduras), and both men manage to be cerebral and conciliatory while at the same time possessing a partisan, progressive edge that reveals itself on occasion, if not as often as some supporters would like.
But still, it was striking to see just how staunchly Kaine stuck up for Obama in his debate with Allen, at a time when many other Democrats in Virginia have been trying to distance themselves from the president. From Bob McCartney's metro column in today's Post:
The $800 billion stimulus package that added to the federal debt and hasn’t appreciably reduced unemployment? Kaine said it succeeded in halting what was then an economic free fall.
The ultra-controversial national health-care bill? Kaine said it needs improvement, but he praised it for extending insurance to millions of Americans, including more than 1 million in Virginia.
Describing the long lines of needy patients who regularly show up for care at an annual charity-funded free clinic in Wise County, in southwestern Virginia, Kaine said, “We don’t need something like that in the richest nation on Earth.”
And it wasn't just Obama's policies but the man himself that Kaine jumped to defend:
In one telling exchange, Allen accused Kaine of neglecting Virginia’s interests in his final year as governor, when he’d also taken on the job of DNC chairman. Allen, a former governor himself, said Kaine was advocating for “the likes of not only President Obama’s policies but those of Nancy Pelosi.”
Kaine interrupted at that point, shaking his head: “The likes of President Obama?” He seemed incredulous — or, more likely, wanted to appear so.
Allen pressed ahead: “The policies and agenda of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid: Were you or were you not advocating for their agenda? And their agenda surely was not consistent with the best interests of Virginia.”
Kaine’s response: “Wiping out al-Qaeda? Stopping the Iraq war? Saving the auto industry? That’s not being consistent with Virginia’s interests? I just see it a different way than you, George.”
If Obama is as serious as he says about holding onto Virginia next year, he'll have an unreserved ally making his case around the state.