U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., formally kicked off his 10th campaign for public office on Monday evening with a rally in his hometown of Richmond, where he took the stage to a crowd that was enthusiastic but significantly different than crowds he spoke to in 2016.

The man who nearly became vice president has won all his elections except that one in 2016, when he was the vice presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket. He said in a meeting with reporters Monday afternoon that he’s learned some lessons from that and takes nothing for granted as he seeks a second term in the Senate.

“I’m planning on winning the economic argument in this race,” he said. “I was a mayor that was doing economic development deals, I was a governor in a state that was one of the best states in this country for business. I know more about the Virginia economy and how to make it work than any of the people running against me.”

Kaine will face the winner of the three Republicans vying for their party’s nomination in the June 12 primary: Nick Freitas, a state delegate from Culpeper; E.W. Jackson, a minister from Chesapeake who was the party’s 2013 nominee for lieutenant governor; and Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

Kaine, a former Richmond mayor, lieutenant governor, governor and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, outlined his positions on jobs, education, health care and equality before a crowd the Kaine campaign counted at 315 at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School. It was the first of more than 20 campaign stops he’ll make across the state this week.

“It’s hard to not get discouraged by toxic rhetoric or by gridlock or by dysfunction,” Kaine told the audience. “But I am not a pessimist about this country or this commonwealth and I don’t think you are either.”

Kaine called for more spending on infrastructure and transit, said the Port of Virginia must be expanded, called health care a fundamental right, repeated his opposition to offshore drilling and called for a reinstated ban on assault weapons.

“Mr. President, instead of starting trade wars that hurt American jobs, invest in infrastructure so we can compete and win,” he said at the rally.

Among those joining Kaine on stage were Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who said holding Kaine’s seat is key to Democrats retaking the Senate.

“It’s one thing to come to these rallies. It’s another thing to do the work,” Stoney told a crowd that filled half the gym at Maggie Walker.

Kaine told reporters he hoped to raise $25 million for his re-election. Noting that he has personal experience losing an election that no one expected him to lose, when President Donald Trump defeated the Democratic ticket in 2016, Kaine said he will take nothing for granted.

In his meeting with reporters, Kaine described himself as a pro-growth progressive, in contrast with what he called “pro-regulation, redistribution Democrats.” He said Democrats nationally need to put a crisper focus on their economic message. One lesson they learned from Trump’s 2016 election was that the Republican message was simple and the Democratic message complicated.

“Since Reagan, the Republican message has been very simple: Grow the economy, less taxes, less regulation,” he said. “If they’re for growth and we’re for something else on the economy, we start behind.”

Republican opponents

Kaine won his first election to the Senate by beating Republican George Allen, a former governor and senator himself. Kaine took nearly 53 percent of the vote.

Kaine told reporters he knows Stewart but is not very familiar with Jackson and Freitas.

“They are kind of competing to be sort of a rubber stamp or a spokesperson or somebody who wants to promote the president’s agenda,” he said. “But I really believe that I’ve got to lay out to Virginians — if I want to earn a second term — ‘Here are the things that motivate me. Here are the things that I want to do as a senator.’ ”

Stewart has regularly attacked Kaine’s youngest son over minor criminal charges he faced for his involvement in the disruption of a pro-Trump rally at the Minnesota state Capitol.

“I think it’s idiotic,” Kaine said of Stewart’s attack. “I think Virginians will see that and say that is definitely not what we want. And I’m not going to respond in kind.”

November’s possibilities

Kaine said he’s excited about Democrats’ chances to gain seats in the U.S. House, where Republicans hold a 7-4 edge in Virginia’s delegation. He said grass-roots groups that have emerged after the 2016 presidential election will help.

“If they stay active, I think we could have a good one,” he said, adding that he believes the outcome could be “the equivalent of what we saw in the House of Delegates races” in 2017. Last November, Democrats stunned Republicans by flipping 15 GOP-controlled seats in the state House.

He said Democrats appear to have the best chances to flip the 2nd District held by Rep. Scott Taylor; the 10th District held by Rep. Barbara Comstock; the 7th District held by Rep. Dave Brat; and the 5th District held by Rep. Tom Garrett.

Nationally, Democrats are defending Kaine’s seat and a number of others. But Kaine said he thinks Democrats have a chance of retaking the U.S. Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage following the Democratic pickup of a seat in Alabama. The retirements of two anti-Trump Republicans, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, put both those states into play, Kaine said.

Republicans may be eager to tie Kaine to Hillary Clinton. But that might not have much impact in Virginia, which voted for Clinton by more than 5 percentage points over Trump.

In a statement Monday, Garren Shipley, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee in Virginia, wrote:

“The Clinton-Kaine campaign spent all of 2016 telling everyday Virginians that they were ‘deplorable,’ and even now Hillary Clinton says that places that didn’t vote for her are ‘backward.’ Places like Virginia Beach, the Shenandoah Valley and Southside Virginia aren’t likely to forget what was said about them.

“Add in the fact that Kaine voted against tax cuts and for shutting down the government, and Virginia voters have every right to be skeptical of Kaine — whether he’s talking about economic growth or running an ‘inclusive’ campaign.”

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pwilson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

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