"It was really about the best night of my life," Tim Kaine said of Election Night, which not only saw his long-time friend Mark Warner capture a landslide of landslides win over Jim Gilmore in their U.S. Senate race but also saw another friend, Barack Obama, win Virginia on his way to a historic triumph in the contest for the White House. Kaine then had to add a caveat. "Next to wedding day and the births of my kids. My wife and I agreed. It doesn't get any better than this," the governor said.
Kaine was an Obama guy before being an Obama guy was cool, endorsing the soon-to-be former Illinois senator in 2007 when it appeared that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was the clear frontrunner at the head of the pack of a crowded Democratic Party presidential-nomination field. He jumped on board the then-roomy Obama bandwagon, he said, because "I thought he was the most likely Democrat to win Virginia."
"The reason I thought that was he's a person of strong views, but he doesn't demonize the opposition, and he always looks to try to find the common ground to solve problems. That's what Virginians like. They don't like the hard partisans, and they don't like the dividers. They like problem-solvers and unifiers. And that's the kind of public servant that Barack has been. My sense in 2007 when I endorsed him was that what not just Virginia, but what America, wanted in 2008 was that kind of leadership," said Kaine, who served as a national co-chair of the Obama campaign and was a finalist in the Obama team's vice-presidential nominee search in August.
As the unofficial head of the Democratic Party of Virginia as the state's top elected Democratic official, Kaine is still cautious about joining in the giddy talk of Virginia Dems about the Old Dominion turning blue.
"I think Virginia is still independent-minded," Kaine said. "The fact that we don't register by party - even folks who call themselves Dems have usually voted for an R, and vice versa, and then the biggest group is folks who call themselves independents. So you have to be able to win independents to win statewide, and independents, they want to see problem-solvers, they want to see unifiers. They don't want the wedge issues and the division, and they don't want to see a lot of rhetoric and partisan deadlock. They want to see results," Kaine said.
"Democrats, we've been that party. Now, any Republican can wake up tomorrow and say, I want to be that person. So it's not really a partisan message, it's just the one that we Democrats have really been able to use as our governing philosophy, and Virginians have responded," Kaine said.
That said, "Momentum does build momentum," Kaine acknowledged, "so Mark won in '01, that made it easier for me to win in '05, I kept a lot of my team in place in '05 who then worked on the Webb race the very next year, and we kept a lot of our talent in the state," Kaine said. "There was a while where we didn't have a lot of great Virginia campaign managers, fundraisers, field organizers. We do now have a great cadre of super campaign professionals plus a database of volunteers. So every year you have success, it gets a little bit easier the next year. But we just have to keep focusing on that base - solve problems, unify people. If we stick with those messages, I think we're going to do pretty well," Kaine said.