Tim Kaine's moment in the national political spotlight came quickly.
Sworn in less than three weeks ago as governor of Virginia, Kaine will deliver the English-language Democratic response to the President's State of the Union Address on Tuesday evening. The Spanish-language response will come from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Some in Washington feel that both the president's speech and the opposition party's response have outlived their usefulness. Last Sunday, The Washington Post carried an opinion column calling the State of the Union Address a meaningless annual ritual, a gaudy spectacle of ballyhoo and hype with all the spontaneity of -- and about as much meaning as -- a televised Hollywood awards ceremony.
Still, the speech gives the politician selected to respond to the president an opportunity to speak to a national TV audience of millions. Kaine, a Democrat elected in Republican-leaning Virginia, spoke to a Monitor breakfast about his selection.
"There are people with more of a national profile than me, obviously. There are people who know more about issues, for example some of the foreign-policy issues than I do, obviously. My thought was basically this. One, are you asking me to give somebody else's speech or are you asking me to say what I think? "We will let you write the speech." OK. Then I thought, well, I have been asked; maybe there is something that needs to be said that I can say. Whether somebody else can say it better or not, I think there is probably something that needs to be said that I can say."
Kaine is expected to echo a call from President Bush in Tuesday night's presidential speech for more bipartisanship in conducting the nation's business. There is "too much of partisanship for its own sake that is not necessarily about advancing the dialog or improving the solution but instead sort of [playing] the gotcha games," Kaine told the assembled reporters.
Drawing on his campaign to succeed popular Mark Warner as governor of Virginia, Kaine said, "This formula of 'Results matter, management matters' - that really has a tremendous power.... Management isn't just about the boring stuff, it can be about life or death."
Kaine sees the theme of management and results as a way to address Republican vulnerabilities while offering a positive-sounding message. It can be used, he says, "whether you are talking about management of foreign policy and the war effort, management of emergency response, management of fiscal affairs, [or] management of something like Medicare Part D." Medicare Part D is the new prescription-drug benefit for seniors.
The youthful Kaine, who had previously served as Virginia's lieutenant governor, says he is bullish about the Democratic Party's national prospects. "I think the Democratic Party is in a resurgent mode.... I am looking at Virginia, and Virginia has been a pretty reliably red state trending that way since my father-in-law (A. Linwood Holton) won the governor's election in 1969. It has been a red state in national elections since 1964 - in presidential elections. What I see happening is jurisdictions that had never been in play for a Democrat ... jurisdictions that were extremely difficult for Democrats, I won for the first time in a long time in 2005. I'd like to think I am a fantastic candidate but it wasn't just me. It was people's receptivity to a different message and more openness to the party."
Coming from a state with several military bases and a strong military tradition, Kaine argues that to succeed, Democrats should "not be defensive about being pro-security.... We need to be a pro-security party." Polls show voters fairly evenly split on whether President Bush was right to have approved a program that involves wiretapping terrorism suspects without getting a warrant. Kaine said, "whether it is a technical violation of the law or not, I think the clear intent of the law has been bypassed."
His State of the Union response is already written but Kaine left open the possibility of last-minute changes. "I will leave it open to inspiration. If he goes in a particularly different direction or if I hear something that makes me want to respond to a point, I will."