Democratic Party Chair Kaine to Run for Senate in Virginia

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine
Tim Kaine chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said he will run for the U.S. Senate in Virginia in next year’s election, bolstering his party’s chances of keeping the open seat by having a proven fundraiser and former governor of the state in the race.

Kaine, 53, made the announcement on a video posted on a website established for his candidacy. Sitting on the porch steps of his home in Richmond, Kaine said he is entering the race “because America has big challenges and I’m convinced that Virginia has answers to strengthen our nation.”

He touted his record as the state’s governor, such as recruiting efforts that helped companies including Ikea Group and Roll Royce Group Plc establish facilities in the state.

The seat opened up when Senator James Webb, a Democrat who won the seat in one of 2006’s most competitive races, said in February he won’t seek re-election. Former Republican Senator George Allen, whom Webb defeated, is already in the race, along with Republican Jamie Radtke, the Richmond Tea Party chairwoman.

Democrats control the 100-member Senate with 53 votes, and their risk of losing the chamber to Republicans in 2012 has risen with a series of retirements from incumbents in their party. While Kaine had previously said he didn’t want to run, other Virginia Democrats, including Democratic Senator Mark Warner, urged him to get into the race.

Obama’s Pick

President Barack Obama, who also wanted Kaine to seek the Senate seat, picked U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida as his choice to take over as head of the DNC. Vice President Joe Biden informed DNC members of Obama’s selection in an e-mail today after Kaine’s announcement. The DNC members must confirm the choice.

Kaine was elected Virginia governor in 2005 with 52 percent of the vote and was mayor of Richmond from 1998 to 2001. A close ally of Obama’s, he was a co-chairman of the president’s 2008 campaign and was considered a possible vice-presidential pick. He was elected Democratic Party chairman in January 2009.

Under Kaine’s leadership, the Democratic National Committee raised $225 million in 2009 and 2010 compared with $196 million for the Republican National Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks donations. In the previous midterm election cycle, 2005-06, the Republicans raised $243 million and the Democrats trailed with $131 million.

Democratic Retirements

On March 2, Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii became the fifth Democratic caucus member to announce he won’t run for re-election in 2012. Along with Webb, Democratic Senators Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Kent Conrad of North Dakota said they will retire, as has independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who caucuses with the Democrats.

Republican Senators John Ensign of Nevada, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona have also said they won’t seek re-election in 2012.

While Obama carried Virginia in 2008 -- the first Democrat to do so in 44 years -- Republicans won three Democratic-held House seats in last fall’s elections, and Republican Robert McDonnell won the governorship in 2009.

Kaine’s decision sets up a likely battle with Allen, also a former Virginia governor, said Jennifer Duffy, Senate editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.

Marquee Race

“Obviously this sets up one of the marquee races of the cycle,” Duffy said. “It’s a test not only of the Senate race, but also how much Virginia’s politics have really changed.”

Allen today disputed Kaine’s accomplishments as governor, saying in a statement the Democrat’s term “was marked by his proposals calling for staggering tax increases and by substantial job losses.”

“After being convinced by his liberal allies in Washington to run,” Kaine’s announcement “sets up a clear contrast for the families of Virginia,” Allen said.

Kaine adviser Mo Elleithee responded with a statement saying “it’s unfortunate that George Allen has resorted to name calling so early in this campaign. Virginians deserve a senator who will focus on our nation’s economic challenges and will bring more civility to Washington.”

Allen, 59, was favored to win re-election in 2006 until a campaign gaffe less than three months before the vote. In a speech to voters, he referred to a Webb campaign aide as “macaca.” The remark is considered a racial slur in some countries, referring to a macaque, a kind of monkey.

Allen later said he made up the word and apologized for using it to refer to the Indian-American man who was videotaping him. Still, that campaign mistake combined with a wave of support for Democratic candidates that year helped Webb defeat Allen, 50 percent to 49 percent.

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