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Obama's real test in Virginia? Tim Kaine's record

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Norman Leahy

According to this piece in The Atlantic, Virginia will be a “test” of the strength of the coalition of voters who elected Barack Obama in 2008 and saw the commonwealth go for the Democratic ticket for the first time since 1964.  But behind the article’s demographic analyses is a key point that isn’t explored: the president’s fate in Virginia in 2012 will depend a great deal on former Gov. Tim Kaine, who is weighing a U.S. Senate bid.

The article’s author, Josh Kraushaar, frames the President’s Virginia prospects this way:

Democrats suffered setbacks in Virginia for numerous reasons, but most pressing to Obama was the loss of affluent white-collar voters.  They cast ballots for Obama in 2008 but went for GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell one year later.  Obama's recent support for an across-the-board extension of tax cuts, disengagement from the heated labor fight in Wisconsin, and conciliatory appeals for education reform are a direct appeal to this constituency.

A few correctives are in order.

Look back at the highlighted paragraph again – “Obama's recent support for an across-the-board extension of tax cuts, disengagement from the heated labor fight in Wisconsin, and conciliatory appeals for education reform are a direct appeal to this constituency.”  Perhaps Mr. Obama has done these things.  But Mr. Kaine?  Not so much.

As DNC chairman, Mr. Kaine was neck deep in the Wisconsin labor fight, which was in some ways an echo of his pro-labor agitation during his gubernatorial term.

The president is for tax cut extensions?  Great!   But as governor, Tim Kaine was a tax-hiker from the word “go.”  His last act as governor was to propose bringing back the hated car tax, or, for those localities that didn’t want to do so, allow the imposition of a higher income tax.

As for education reform…as governor, Kaine did nothing to advance the cause of school choice during his term, and back during his run for lieutenant governor, Kaine dismissed a proposal to allow parents to use education tax credits to send their kids to the public, or private, schools of their choosing.

For the president, then, the sheer number of voters that will show up at the polls should be a heartening possibility.  A lot of the folks who plumped for him in 2008 sat out the 2009 and 2010 contests.  Surely they will return to the fold in 2012?

Possibly.  But unlike the president, Mr. Kaine will be on the stump every day in Virginia, confronting questions on why he wanted to bring back the car tax, why he rallied to the union cause in Wisconsin, why he did nothing to implement school choice.

And most of all, as Richmond-Times Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro has noted, and Democrats with whom I’ve spoken have echoed, is the distinct possibility that Kaine could be walloped by a Willie Horton-type scandal of his own.

This has a lot of establishment Democrats nervous.  They should be…but the one who should be most concerned of all is President Obama.

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