Having done Democrats one big favor by chairing the Democratic National Committee, Tim Kaine accomplished another: The former Virginia governor beat Republican George Allen in a very expensive campaign for the Senate that resembled a marathon.
Kaine grew up in Overland Park, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City. He was in kindergarten when President Kennedy was assassinated. “As an Irish Catholic, the Kennedy presidency was a matter of real pride for our family,” he recalled in an interview. His father ran his own ironworking and welding shop, with Kaine and his younger brothers frequently helping out. Kaine attended the University of Missouri, where he graduated in three years, then went to Harvard Law School.
Midway through, Kaine left to spend nine months teaching at a Jesuit mission in Honduras, then returned to complete his law degree in 1983. It was there that he met his wife, Anne Holton, the daughter of Linwood Holton, Virginia’s first Republican governor of the 20th century. For a time, Kaine worked for a federal judge in Macon, Ga., while Holton was working for a federal judge in Richmond. They decided to get married and settle in Richmond. “As is still the case, my wife was more persuasive and I came to her state,” he said. Kaine subsequently worked as a civil rights lawyer. In 1994, he won a seat on the Richmond City Council, and four years later was elected mayor. In 2001, he was elected lieutenant governor.
Kaine ran for governor in 2005 against former state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. Kaine pitched a quality-of-life agenda designed to appeal to urban and suburban voters, while Kilgore relied on hot-button issues such as the death penalty and illegal immigration. In one tough ad, a man whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered criticized Kaine for opposing the death penalty. “Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler doesn’t qualify for the death penalty,” the man charged. But Kaine said that his opposition to capital punishment was based on religious convictions, and the issue gave him an opportunity to talk about his Catholic faith. Kaine also emphasized that despite his personal beliefs, he would allow executions as governor. Kaine won, 52 percent to 46 percent.
In his first year, Kaine had some successes dealing with the Republican-controlled Legislature, including passage of a bill requiring rigorous teacher evaluations. When a deranged Virginia Tech student killed 32 people before taking his own life, Kaine won praise for his handling of the tragedy. He managed to reach an agreement with the Republican House and Senate on the biggest transportation funding increase in two decades. But the plan was frustrated when the state Supreme Court ruled that the regional authorities couldn’t raise taxes. An early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, Kaine later chaired the DNC from 2009 to 2011.
Kaine got into the Senate race at the urging of Democrats who were eager to find a high-profile challenger to Allen, also a former governor. Allen had previously held a Senate seat from 2001 to 2007 and his name was frequently mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. But Allen surprisingly lost reelection in 2006 to Democrat Jim Webb, having sparked controversy when he referred to an Indian-American aide to Webb as “macaca.”
Kaine and Allen flooded the airwaves with ads. By July 2012, Kaine had raised $10.4 million and spent $7.7 million; Allen had raised more than $8 million and spent $4.9 million. Allen also benefited from the outside group Crossroads GPS, which spent millions attacking Kaine. Allen ridiculed Kaine for accepting a position to head the DNC while he was still governor. For his part, Kaine hit Allen for past support of partial privatization of Social Security. Allen said he did not support changes for current retirees, but was open to a voluntary retirement investment plan as a supplement. Kaine also attacked Allen for increasing spending as governor.
During a debate, the normally disciplined Kaine made a rare gaffe. After Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was caught on tape complaining about 47 percent of Americans not paying taxes, Kaine said he was “open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone.” Republicans jumped on the comment, and Allen ran ads highlighting it. But Kaine started to pull ahead in the polls in the fall and scored a big victory for Democrats on Nov. 6.