The 2016 election must have been a serious disappointment to Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. Like almost everyone in the country, Kaine expected his running mate, Hillary Clinton, to prevail against Republican Donald Trump in the race for president. It wasn’t until about 10 o’clock on election night that the possibility began to arise that Kaine’s future would be as a member of the Senate rather than as its presiding officer. It turns out, maybe that wasn’t such a bad result — at least for Tim Kaine.
A natural-born legislator who clearly relishes the daunting details and necessary compromises of successful public policymaking, Kaine at the moment appears headed to an easy return to the Senate. Election night 2018 should be a lot more fun for him than the one two years ago. That’s partly a result of Virginia’s inexorable transformation from a hotly contested swing state to a fairly reliable Democratic bastion, at least in a statewide elections.
President Trump’s unpopularity here, which accelerated the commonwealth’s embrace of all things blue, seems almost certain to drive voters, especially in the prosperous suburbs, into the Kaine camp. In the Trump era, Northern Virginia has become as friendly to Democrats as Vermont. That’s no surprise in a region that may be the wealthiest in the nation and is deeply reliant on the federal government for its uber-high standard of living. Trump’s anti-swamp theme just doesn’t play in nearby marshes dotted with million-dollar homes.
But it’s not just NoVa. In the 2017 elections, Democrats made exceptional gains in the suburbs of Richmond and Hampton Roads. One of the key questions for Virginia’s political future is whether Republicans can at least partially rebound in places like Chesterfield and Virginia Beach once the Trump Show subsides. This November, though, odds are good that Kaine will run well in these former Republican strongholds.
The senator’s formidable standing is, of course, the product of more than just shifting voter trends and chaotic news out of Washington. He is — except when debating Mike Pence — one of the more genuine and affable figures in state politics. A fierce partisan — and there’s nothing wrong with that! — Kaine is also a solid liberal, but one who appears willing to cross the aisle to solicit help in achieving important objectives. He rarely votes against his party’s dogma, but that’s an unfortunate characteristic that afflicts most of the Senate.
We have long admired Kaine for his dogged, intelligent, bipartisan crusade to persuade Congress to reclaim its constitutional prerogatives — and duties — regarding declarations of war and approval of prolonged overseas military actions. No federal power is more important, no decision more consequential to the lives of Americans and others — and legislators’ gradual abdication of this responsibility is cowardly. We urge Kaine to continue the fight, and we support his vision and determination.
The senator also benefits from disarray among Virginia Republicans. Last year’s election results were especially dispiriting for the GOP because it nominated three able and attractive statewide candidates who ran smart, responsible, mainstream campaigns — and lost badly. Republicans have not won an election for statewide office in Virginia since 2009, when Bob McDonnell took the governorship. They haven’t won a U.S. Senate race since 2002, when John Warner was re-elected, and Democrats didn’t even bother to nominate a candidate to run against him.
Right now, the leading GOP contenders to challenge Kaine are two bomb-throwing politicians perhaps best known for , well, losing statewide elections. Corey Stewart lost the Republican primary for governor last year and finished third in the race for lieutenant governor at the 2013 Republican convention. The man who bested him that year, Bishop E.W. Jackson, ended up losing the general election to Ralph Northam, who is now, of course, our governor. In Jackson’s other statewide campaign, he finished fourth in the 2012 Republican primary for U.S. Senate. He garnered 5 percent of the vote, losing to George Allen — who lost to Kaine that November.
The only mildly interesting development in this year’s race so far is the emergence of Republican candidate Nick Freitas, a former Green Beret who served two tours of duty in Iraq. In his second term in the House of Delegates, Freitas recently rocked the state Capitol — and garnered national media attention — when he delivered a fiery speech that was either, depending on your perspective, way over the top or a rare and refreshing example of a politician willing to speak truth to power. In any case, it was a shrewd political move that suggests Freitas might be able to inject some drama into Kaine’s otherwise leisurely stroll to another six years in Washington.