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Kaine Reprises His '08 Praise for Obama

Kaine Reprises His '08 Praise for Obama

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - September 5, 2012


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Under clear skies four years ago, Tim Kaine took to the Democratic convention stage in Denver as Virginia's governor and a steadfast supporter of his party's nominee for president. "Aren't we tired of a Washington that doesn’t have any faith in us?” he asked that August night. “Now is the time to put our faith into action to elect a president who will put middle-class Americans first again.”

Of course, Barack Obama would go on to win that election -- and for the first time in four decades, a Democrat would win the presidential vote in Virginia. He would then pick Kaine to chair the Democratic National Committee. But on Tuesday night, the start of the Democrats’ three-day gathering here, Kaine approached the podium under different circumstances as rain gushed outside Time Warner Cable Arena: Congressional approval is at an all-time low and Washington is caught in partisan gridlock; Obama’s re-election campaign is searching for a needed boost; and the former Virginia governor is locked in a dead heat with George Allen for a U.S. Senate seat.

Yet despite these conditions, which would discourage many Democrats in tough races from attending, let alone addressing, the convention, Kaine circled back to the themes of his 2008 speech, calling President Obama “a tough leader who gets results” and praised “leaders who put results ahead of ideology.” The former governor cited the end of the Iraq War (which Kaine, in his 2008 speech, said Obama would achieve); the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan; the killing of Osama bin Laden; and the passage of a national health care law as examples. “He promised he'd fight for equal pay for women, college affordability for students and fair treatment for LGBT Americans, and he's kept his word,” Kaine said.

He was echoing the Obama campaign’s defense of the president’s record in the face of high unemployment and polls showing Americans concerned about the direction of the country. During his Senate bid, Kaine has embraced the president and has appeared with him at campaign events, including one last week in Charlottesville. Virginia is a key battleground state this cycle, and the presidential results here could very well help determine whether Kaine or Allen wins. But Kaine has also been somewhat measured in his approach, citing a couple of issues on which he disagrees with Obama. He has focused on fiscal and local issues, eschewing the “tax fairness” message the president pushes, and painting his opponent, who served in the Senate under George W. Bush, as a big spender. He hit those themes again on Tuesday.

Kaine took aim at Republicans for supporting a budget plan that changes Medicare and for refusing to combine revenue increases with spending cuts to address the deficit. As he has on the trail, Kaine also spoke about the impending sequestration cuts that would curb 200,000 defense jobs in his state if Congress doesn’t agree on an alternative debt reduction plan by the end of the year.

The Senate hopeful also addressed veterans in his remarks, noting the approaching anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and nodding to the military presence in the Old Dominion. “Their sacrifice reminds us we're not Democrats or Republicans first. We're Americans first,” he said.

While he outlined his differences with the opposing party, Kaine ended his speech on a similar bipartisan note: “Let's come together, show how tough Americans are, and prove our best days will always be ahead of us.”

He struck chords that resonated with his Democratic base, but he also reached out to the independent voters who will play a key role in determining the winners in Virginia.

When Kaine addressed the convention four years ago, Virginia was a red state the Obama campaign was trying to carry. Until Obama’s election, no Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson had won it. On Tuesday night, Kaine called the Old Dominion a “purple” state, highlighting a place where Obama made history but a place that could again decide his political future. 

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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