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Kaine Eschews "Fairness," Talks Up Growth in Va. Race

Kaine Eschews "Fairness," Talks Up Growth in Va. Race

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - May 25, 2012


In defending his campaign's attacks on Mitt Romney's private equity career, President Obama said earlier this week that the 2012 election is about creating an economy that gives Americans a "fair shot" at success. In so doing, Obama was pushing his "fairness" message to create a choice for voters: Do you want a president who handles the economy the Buffett Rule way or the Bain Capital way?

This message plays well in reliably “blue” states, and among the Democratic Party’s liberal base. And even in swing states, several Democrats running for U.S. Senate are embracing Obama’s message. Some of the most vulnerable incumbents, such as Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Jon Tester in Montana, are using some version of Obama’s “fair shot/fair share/same rules” line on the stump.

But these themes present a special challenge to Senate hopeful Tim Kaine of Virginia. One person’s “tax fairness” is another’s “class warfare” -- the preferred Republican way of framing Democratic tax policy -- and Kaine, Obama’s close ally and former DNC chairman, isn’t campaigning on these themes in Virginia.

The Old Dominion is a state with low unemployment, high median income and lots of businesses. Kaine supported the Buffett Rule, but equated the effort to “tripping over dollar bills to pick up pennies.” Instead, Congress -- and presumably the president -- should have taken up the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, he has said, and end tax credits for those earning $500,000 a year or more (Obama has advocated for a $250,000 threshold). Kaine isn’t trying to run on populism in Virginia, but he is trying to use his experience as governor to position himself as a fiscal conservative.

Kaine is apparently trying to emulate Mark Warner, his onetime mentor who is also a former Virginia governor. Warner joined every other Senate Democrat in supporting the Buffett Rule when it came up for a vote, but he had a successful career as a venture capitalist before running for public office and is careful never to demonize capitalism or those who practice it successfully.

On Tuesday, Warner told MSNBC that Bain Capital “was a very successful business. I think they got a good return for their investors. That is what they were supposed to do.” Using the president’s remarks in Chicago as his guide, Warner then pivoted slightly, saying that a successful business career does not necessarily prepare a candidate for a career in public life.

“I think when you’re in public life, though, what you’ve got is a different time horizon,” he said. “The notion that everything in government is exactly the same way that it is in business -- they’re different time horizons when you’ve got to invest for the long haul, when you actually do the kind of early stage investing, whether in preschool, whether it’s in K-12, whether infrastructure. That doesn’t pay back quarter to quarter.” Tim Kaine, running for the seat of retiring Sen. James Webb, agrees.

The Democratic candidate has been campaigning with Warner for several reasons: They once ran Virginia together, Warner as governor and Kaine as lieutenant governor; Warner is very popular in the state; Kaine won his own 2005 gubernatorial race in large part because of Warner.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics says that Kaine drew from the same private equity sources in funding his race -- firms doing exactly what Bain Capital does -- and mimicked Warner’s views on economic issues. “Kaine was his chosen successor and he just inherited much of Warner’s political organization and contributor list,” Sabato told RCP. “If they were to agree with Obama, they would be subject to an immediate comeback of hypocrisy.”

Obama said that because Romney has made his experience at Bain “his calling card” in the presidential race, his private equity career is fair game. “And when you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits,” Obama said, expressing a view similar to what Warner later conveyed on MSNBC. But the president added this: “Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.”

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

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