My previous #1 choice for Obama’s vice-presidential pick, Sen. Jim Webb, has taken himself out of consideration. And, none of the other choices possess the combination of national security experience, bipartisan credentials, and experienced winning a key swing state that Webb brought to the table. But, Webb’s fellow Virginian, Governor Tim Kaine, has evidently made it onto Obama’s shortlist and he brings unique gifts to the table also.
I remember the first time I heard about Kaine. A writer for the Washington Post insisted that there was no way Kaine could win the governorship of the Old Dominion in 2005. “He is way too nice,” the writer intoned. “He may be the most decent man I have ever met in politics. Kilgore (Kaine’s opponent who had a reputation for conducting tough negative campaigns) will eat him alive.” But, sometimes good guys finish first and Kaine won by the surprisingly large margin of 52% to 46%.
Kaine’s predecessor was also a Democrat, Mark Warner. Warner had made a fortune in the computer business and ran as a problem solving entrepreneur. (Before the dot.com bubble burst, and the sub-prime mortgage bubble burst, Americans equated businessmen with competence.) Warner also used his wealth to buy a NASCAR team which burnished his good ol’ boy credentials. Kaine had no fortune and would look ridiculous pretending to be a Bubba.
What did permit Kaine to connect with the voters was his Catholicism, despite the fact that Virginia is a state where less than ten percent of the population is Catholic. Kaine’s campaign featured a part of his biography that did stand out from that of most politicians: while at Harvard Law School, he took a year off to work with the Jesuits on a mission in Honduras. Kaine was comfortable discussing how his religious convictions helped lead him into public life. And he candidly admitted the difficulties on such issues as abortion and the death penalty, two issues where his oath of office would require him to uphold laws the Church and he both oppose. Instead of running from a discussion of how his faith and his politics combined and conflicted, a la John Kerry, Kaine embraced that discussion and he won it.
This quality – not his Catholicism per se, but his comfortability in discussing how his faith and his politics intertwine – make him an ideal choice for Obama’s running mate. Catholics are shaping up to be the decisive swing voters in this election, and even marginal help on that score could help. His lack of foreign policy experience is also becoming less important as the Iraqi government demands a timetable for withdrawal.
Kaine’s fluency in Spanish will help with Spanish-language media in key states like New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada as well. And, Virginia which was once known as the “Home of Presidents” having delivered America five of our first six chief magistrates, is itself a key swing state where Kaine’s popularity could prove decisive. Kaine is on the shortlist, and he should be.
Michael Sean Winters