Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kaine or Perriello? Or someone else?

Tim Kaine campaigning for Jim Webb in Buena Vista in 2006

When the news that Senator Jim Webb had decided not to run for a second term broke, there was a stampede among the media talking heads towards DNC Chairman Tim Kaine. The stampede showed a lack of imagination, to say the least.

Don't get me wrong: Tim Kaine would make a fine senator and he will mop the floor with George Allen--or any of the other current Republican contenders--if he chooses to run for Webb's seat in 2012. And when I say mop the floor, I mean clobber, inflicting just a crushing, truly humiliating defeat on the oafish Allen.

Unlike Jim Webb, Tim Kaine loves to campaign, and he excels at it. I saw a great deal of Kaine on the campaign trail in 2005 when he was running for governor and then more during 2006 when he was helping Webb run for senate. By comparison, George Allen is a gaffe-prone oaf who will fold like a house of cards as soon as the video cameras are switched on during the campaign.

But Tim Kaine may not want the job. Kaine may have his eyes on a larger prize. I'm just spit balling here, but what if Hillary Clinton decides to resign after four years? Clinton is doing a fantastic job as Secretary of State, but the job has a high burnout rate. If Clinton steps aside, who would be the next Secretary of State? Vice President Joe Biden, that's who.

Biden is not in the line of succession for the 2016 Democratic nomination. He is among the best foreign policy specialists this nation has. Secretary of State would be an excellent capstone to Biden's career of public service. Leaving the Vice Presidency to become Secretary of State would be a lateral move, or even a promotion, and Biden would do an excellent job there.

Which opens up the Vice Presidential nomination for 2012. There would be no primary--Obama would simply get to pick his running mate. Kaine narrowly missed being chosen in 2008, since that time he has continued to build his relationship with Obama. Kaine would be a logical choice and he would then be in line to succeed Obama in 2016.

Selecting Kaine as his running mate makes sense for Obama in other respects. If carrying Virginia is so critical to Obama's success--as a panicky sounding Howard Fineman said in a piece at Huffington Post yesterday--then wouldn't Obama be better served with Kaine as his running mate, and not just a senate candidate? If Tim Kaine's coattails are so critical to Obama retaining Virginia in 2012, then shouldn't Kaine be on the ticket with Obama?

An Obama-Kaine ticket would have powerful coattails of its own in Virginia. That's how I see the presidential electoral politics at this point--I think Tim Kaine may have bigger fish to fry than Webb's senate seat. Which leads us to the question of who should get that nomination?

I think most Virginia Democratic insiders are terrified of another bungled statewide primary like the one that divided and exhausted the party in 2009. I think a big part of the attraction of Kaine for many of these folks is that Kaine has enough stature to essentially walk into the nomination: no one would be willing to take Kaine on in a primary and if they did, they would lose handily. They are right to be concerned about this, because the Democratic Party of Virginia contains more than one overly ambitious politician willing to try to climb the electoral ladder over the wreckage of the Democratic Party.

A logical alternative to Tim Kaine would be former Representative Tom Perriello, who narrowly lost a re-election bid in a heavily Republican district in the middle of a huge Republican wave year and he did it by running as a Democrat, not by cravenly running away from his party. Perriello has real political talent, in both the organizational sense and in terms of personal charisma. He has the ability to build a credible statewide organization and is an able stump speaker. He is articulate and will present well against the communications-challenged George Allen.

Tom Perriello (right) with Donald McEachin (center) and an unidentified friend

Perriello also has experience dealing with the sort of dirty campaigning we can expect from the Republicans in 2012. Tom Perriello is personally tough. George Allen ran a campaign in 2006 that was notable for its really shocking levels of awfulness, that really plumbed the depths--and that was before the Tea Party. Allen plus the Tea Party with the aggravating factor of the African-American Obama at the top of the ticket is going to drive the Republican Party of Virginia to new, previously unexplored depths of awfulness. Tom Perriello can stand up to that and win statewide. He can turn the Republican "Schrecklichkeit" ("Frightfulness") back on its perpetrators and run a positive campaign that will beat George Allen or anyone else the Republican Party is likely to put up in 2012.

Is there anyone else on the Democratic Party of Virginia's bench who fits the bill? With the possible exception of Terry McAuliffe, anyone who ran for statewide office in 2009 can be--should be--eliminated. It would be hard to point to a greater collection of truly lackluster campaigns--I say campaigns, not candidates--and the people responsible for them ought to sit out a little longer and think about what happened in 2009 and their role in creating that disaster.

Terry McAuliffe (left) with Donald McEachin (right)

I exclude McAuliffe from the 2009 disaster because he was more of a victim of 2009 than an architect. He remained basically positive throughout 2009 and did his best to support the eventual nominee in the general election, and by doing so he emerged from the mess of 2009 more or less unscathed. McAuliffe has the money and the statewide contacts to make a credible run for Webb's senate seat. The question with McAuliffe is really "does he want it?" I don't think he does. It's a poorly kept secret that McAuliffe wants to run for governor in 2013. Everything he's done since losing the Democratic nomination in 2009 has been directed towards that goal. He is doing a very good job--in my opinion--of locking up the nomination for 2013. Why should McAuliffe, an executive-type if there ever was one, now suddenly turn aside to seek a legislative post?

There are others, further down the DPVA's bench, untainted by 2009, but for them the question becomes one of ripeness. For state legislators like Donald McEachin or Jennifer McClellan the time may not yet be ripe for a statewide race. For others, their moment may have passed. Bobby Scott is a well respected U.S. Representative with a very safe seat. Scott is beginning to climb the critical ladder of seniority in the House, placing key chairmanships within his reach in the not so distant future. Why should Scott sacrifice that for a risky run for the U.S. Senate?

In any case, Virginia's Democrats will have a lot to discuss at this year's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Anyone considering running for the nomination for Webb's seat will probably show their hand at this event.


F.T. Rea said...

Good analysis.

vjp said...

Certainly a plausible scenario.

Catherine S. Read said...

This is one of the best assessments I've seen written so far. Very thoughtful, thorough and objective. Gives Dems something to truly ponder. I'm hoping it will be Perriello.