Kaine Happy to Stand With Obama at Va. Kickoff

Kaine Happy to Stand With Obama at Va. Kickoff

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - May 6, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. -- Some Democratic congressional candidates in battleground states might go into hiding when President Obama comes to town, but not Virginia Senate hopeful Tim Kaine. He's happy to walk alongside the man on whose coattails his candidacy might depend.

In fact, Kaine jogged to the podium at a rally Saturday at Virginia Commonwealth University to "officially" kick off Obama's re-election campaign, and told the receptive crowd, “I am a proud friend and supporter of this president.”

The former Virginia governor echoed the re-election campaign's new theme. “We’re at a crossroads again,” he said after reminding the audience of the political climate of 2008. “Do we go forward or do we go backward?”

"President Obama knows we need to out-build, out-educate, out-innovate. That's the way to go forward."

Even if he wanted to, it would be difficult for Kaine to separate himself from the president: He was an early supporter of the then-Illinois senator's candidacy four years ago (he often notes that he was the first governor outside of Obama's home state to endorse him), he co-chaired Obama's national campaign and then most recently chaired the Democratic National Committee.

But he is also running neck-and-neck with George Allen, the presumed Republican nominee and a former governor himself, in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. Both are seeking the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb. Analysts believe Kaine's and Allen’s dreams of winning will live and die by how the candidate at the top of each man's ticket performs.

For Republicans who hope to gain control of the upper chamber by tying Democrats to Obama and his policies, Kaine is a prime target. Allen’s campaign, for example, always refers to his opponent as “Chairman.” Kaine, on the other hand, is focusing his bid around local issues, and campaigns as if he were running for governor again.

But he doesn’t shy from the president. Indeed, this isn’t the first time he has called himself a “friend and proud supporter” of Obama. In a speech at a youth rally here in February, Kaine described the relationship in the same terms. And his enthusiastic embrace of Obama here Saturday makes clear he sees the president as a positive symbol in this state, which could determine the balance of power in the Senate as well as who wins the White House in November.

Kaine admonished critics who say support for Obama here is politically dangerous. Ads being run against him by outside groups “suggest somehow it is anti-Virginia to support this president. Do you believe that?” he asked the crowd of roughly 7,000 gathered in the VCU basketball arena, many of them waving signs distributed by the campaign that read “Forward” in white letters on a blue background on one side and “Not Back” on the reverse side, framed in red.

“I believe virtually all Virginians want our president to succeed regardless [of party], because when our president succeeds, our nation succeeds,” said Kaine. Even if some of those listening disagree with him at times, “we also share a strong belief that this president is doing a good job under tough circumstances.”

The crowd cheered loudly -- some in the bleachers rose to their feet -- for Kaine, who accused Republicans of bringing the nation to the brink of default last summer during the debt ceiling debate and of wanting to “transform Medicare” as part of their budget proposal. “That’s not responsible. That’s reckless,” he said.

“President Obama is the top official of the greatest nation on earth,” he added near the end of his seven-minute speech. “As Americans, we should all be hoping for his success.”

Kaine wasn’t the only Democratic Senate hopeful to stand with Obama on Saturday. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is seeking re-election in Ohio, appeared at the president’s rally earlier in the day at Ohio State University in Columbus. Brown is running ahead of state Treasurer Josh Mandel in the polls, but the state's swing status and spending on the race by outside groups will likely tighten the contest.

Obama acknowledged both Kaine and Brown in his speeches, and he will be spending a lot of time in these candidates’ respective states given their importance to his fate. 

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

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