Tim Kaine has his differences with Ralph Northam, the biggest being that Kaine believes his fellow Democrat is no longer qualified to be governor because of his titanic racial miscue.
But Kaine and Northam remain of like mind on flipping the legislature back to the Democrats and are working together — through their political operatives — to achieve that objective.
A governor-turned-U.S. senator, Kaine said in Richmond the other day his staff and Northam’s were coordinating efforts on behalf of candidates for the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate before, during and after the blackface controversy that for two months has subsumed Northam, who — as a legislative nominee 12 years ago — was described by Kaine as the perfect candidate because of his rural roots, urban base and suburban sensibilities.
Time — and the recent trauma — have Kaine viewing Northam through a far more skeptical lens.
Coordination between Kaine and Northam — and other Democratic grandees who, like Kaine, have demanded Northam resign — recalls relations between the United States and Taiwan: Technically, they don’t exist, but they endure back-channel.
This is where Kaine’s chief of staff, Mike Henry, and Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, come in — among others.
These fellows, who have worked together in Virginia politics for years, have in recent weeks been spending a lot of time on the phone, discussing candidates, strategy, fundraising and organization.
This may even help restore a level of fun to the operations of a party beset by dysfunction.
In a wary, awkward way, the leadership of the state Democratic Party — fractured by the Northam cluster — is sticking together if only in shared purpose: gaining the two seats in the House and two in the Senate that would not only restore Democratic dominance of the General Assembly but would also give the party total control of state government for the first time in 36 years.
This has been nudged along by increasing, albeit brief, contacts between Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, some of them little more than the occasional how-are-you? But it’s a marker, too, of accelerating staff-to-staff engagement with November in mind. Fairfax’s top aide, Larry Roberts, a former Kaine guy, is participating in these conversations.
Northam and Fairfax — who is accused by two women of sexual assault — attended this past Sunday the dedication of a civil rights monument in South Richmond. It was the first time the two appeared together since both were plunged into controversy in February.
In contrast, there’s apparently been no personal contact between Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, who has pressed Northam to resign.
One would think that the state’s lawyer and his main client — that is, the man who runs the state — would have plenty to discuss, notwithstanding their shared difficulties.
Herring — with a blackface problem of his own — is a declared candidate for governor. His ambitions for 2021 will be shaped by what he does in 2019 for Democratic legislative candidates. He is not the only statewide prospect whose activities this year will be a harbinger for two years hence.
Perhaps the most telling measure will be how much money Herring, Fairfax and others raise, now that the ban on soliciting donations during the General Assembly session has lifted, and how much of it is steered to House and Senate prospects.
In 2017, when Democrats stunned themselves by picking up 15 seats in the House, Northam threw nearly $2 million at party committees to assist local candidates. Herring’s giving was about $282,000.
This year, some Democratic committees — and this includes the state party — will get the back of the hand from Northam and Fairfax rather than a handout as retaliation for calling on the two to step down.
Their operatives acknowledge that their fundraising, which is just resuming, is likely to be impaired because of the Democratic winter of discontent. But Northam and Fairfax are already hearing from candidates who will happily accept their support.
Susan Hippen, one of three Democrats running in a primary for an open Republican Senate seat in blue-trending Virginia Beach, told the news site Richmond2Day she’s “not scared of Justin” and is not distancing herself from Northam, whom the Republican Party of Virginia on Wednesday sneeringly labeled “Governor Blackface.”
Watch as well the comings, goings — and givings — of those Democrats whose timetables for a statewide run may have been pushed up because Fairfax and Herring are considered damaged goods.
That includes Norfolk’s mayor, Kenny Alexander; Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond, whose husband was an adviser to Fairfax but quit after a second woman accused him of sexual assault; and Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond.
Through their PACs, McClellan and Stoney — through the 2018 elections — contributed about $43,000 and $35,000, respectively, to candidates and party committees. Alexander hasn’t opened his cash spigot — yet.
And Stoney is scheduled to be the keynoter at next month’s meeting of the Albemarle County Democratic Committee.
Because, after all, Albemarle is lovely this time of year.