Tim Kaine is Looking for a Democratic Wave

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) will formally launch his reelection campaign in a few days. A press release says Kaine will “lay out the high stakes of this election.”

The stakes really are high — for Virginia Republicans.

Part of the reason, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, is the number of congressional seats where voters may be inclined, if not eager, to toss the GOP incumbent and give a Democrat — any Democrat — a try.

Let’s add to that Mr. Kaine’s larger reelection strategy: deploying long, powerful coattails.

Those would be a novel addition for Kaine, who isn’t noted for such political finery.

In his 2012 Senate race, Kaine finished almost 2 percentage points ahead of Barack Obama, a pretty good result. But he was unable to translate that bigger showing into any of the congressional races, where every Republican seeking reelection won.

There are a number of reasons for this: 2012 was a truly national election, with its own high stakes, and Obama, not Kaine, was the marquee player.

What about 2016, when Kaine was part of the national Democratic ticket?

He and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won Virginia — but with almost 30,000 fewer votes than Kaine alone earned in 2012. And, again, Republicans retained all their seats.

With this history, why should we expect Kaine to pull other Virginia Democrats to victory?

The obvious reason this time is President Trump. Rarely have Democrats had such a powerful and useful foil in the White House.

And we already saw the Trump effect in action in 2017, when Democrats again swept the top three statewide offices and came within a whisker of breaking Republican control of the House of Delegates.

Trump is such an effective Democratic get-out-the-vote tool, it would be tempting to think Kaine would win re-election without lifting a finger. And foolish.

It would also fundamentally misread Kaine.

After his gubernatorial victory over Jerry Kilgore in 2005, Kaine almost immediately went to work running a campaign-style effort targeting Republicans opposed to his transportation plans for the state.

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