Tim Kaine Touts Economic Plan in Virginia

Tim Kaine Touts Economic Plan in Virginia

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - April 5, 2012

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Flanked by Sen. Mark Warner at a Northern Virginia-based energy company, Democratic Senate hopeful Tim Kaine of Virginia spelled out his economic vision Wednesday with a plan to increase access to capital for small businesses, encourage investments in education, infrastructure and alternative energy, and balance the budget through a combination of cuts and revenue increases.

The "Growth, Talent, and Balance" plan invokes many of the themes outlined by the Obama administration. But Kaine -- a former governor of the Old Dominion and most recently chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- is tailoring these policies to Virginia businesses and schools and he explains them in a way that seems as if he’s running for, well, governor again. His plan focuses on investing in vocational education programs, for example, and targeting individual communities and businesses, hoping that handshakes and personal interactions translate into votes.

His approach sharply contrasts with that of his likely Republican opponent in November, George Allen, who is running a campaign based on national themes in Virginia, a key battleground state where the top of the ballot may help determine the outcome of the Senate race.

Both candidates have been actively campaigning across the state, holding several events each week. But Allen is pushing key issues being debated across the country, such as the controversial National Labor Relations Board decision involving Boeing, the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and the president’s health care law.

Virginia is a traditional state and both candidates once occupied the governor’s mansion for a time, so it is difficult to predict which strategy -- local vs. national -- will prevail in the race. And a front-runner isn’t likely to emerge anytime soon. Polls consistently show the pair in a dead heat, and Kaine’s top advisers project the race will be one of the closest in state history.

But if Republicans have their way, President Obama’s presence on the ballot could be a major liability for Kaine (though the former governor recently has been able to more comfortably align with the president in light of controversial social issues that have come to the fore). Yet Kaine can also stand with Warner, a former governor himself whose moderate streak on Capitol Hill and business acumen have made him extremely popular in his home state. Warner’s own path to victory in 2008 -- winning high majorities in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads -- may be helpful to Kaine.

The pair seemed like old chums Wednesday -- and for good reason: They’ve known each other since 1980, and Kaine served as Warner’s lieutenant governor. The spoke to about two dozen business leaders at the Arlington-based Opower, an energy utility company that moved to Northern Virginia when Kaine was governor in 2007. Both seemed to relish the opportunity to talk policy instead of politics (“I’m a data freak,” Kaine said when the topic was education), but they also balance each other out: Warner is cautious and reserved; Kaine, eager and seemingly enchanted with his audience.

The latter talked about his plans to take “Virginia lessons nationally” as a U.S. senator. His economic plan includes making it easier for community banks to provide loans to small businesses and enticing companies to move their headquarters to Virginia; shifting the emphasis in No Child Left Behind from testing for competence to testing for excellence; embracing conservation as part of a comprehensive energy policy that includes investments in green technology while eliminating oil and corn-based ethanol subsidies; and letting the Bush tax cuts expire for top income earners.

In an effort to attract military voters and veterans -- a key voting group in Virginia whose support Obama may have trouble attracting -- Kaine proposed incentives to hire veterans. A woman in the crowd who works to find female veterans jobs expressed concern to Kaine and Warner about the unemployment rate among veterans, which runs higher than the national average. Warner called the statistic “a national embarrassment” and advocated strengthening counseling and response services for former service members. Kaine said there needs to be better job training programs for veterans returning to the workforce so that their skills can translate to the commercial sector.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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