By Len Lazarick | Maryland Reporter
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the presidential chess game, Virginia is the “checkmate state,” its former governor and U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine told fired up Democratic delegates at breakfast Tuesday.
Kaine, who also served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, reminded delegates attending the Democratic National Convention here that President Barak Obama has said, “I can be president without Virginia, but the other guys can’t.”
“We were real red” in Virginia, which hadn’t voted Democratic for president since Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964 until Obama came along, Kaine said, turning the state “from red to purple.”
Until the 2008 election, “we were irrelevant,” Kaine said. “Now, we’re right back in the center.”
Virginia on the floor
A sign of Virginia’s importance to an Obama victory is its delegation’s placement near the podium in the Time Warner Cable Arena, with only two states closer, Illinois and Delaware, home states of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
“There are cameras everywhere,” David Mills, Virginia Democratic Party executive director, reminded the delegates, including mini-cams atop the state standard. “If you feel like you’re on TV, it’s because you are.”
Maryland’s seats couldn’t be farther away up in the rafters, but in an interview, Virginia Democratic Party chairman Brian Moran said, “we were up there before” in earlier conventions.
“Maryland and Virginia enjoy a very cooperative relationship,” Moran said, except for the current Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and O’Donnell “are like night and day,” he said.
Governing from the center
Kaine had to deal with a Republican Legislature, and he said he and Democrats needed to focus on results.
“If it’s not about results, it’s not about anything,” Kaine said.
He said he fought constantly with the Legislature about transportation, but they found common ground on expanding higher education.
Kaine said the Democratic Party has an advantage because the party’s diversity makes it look more like the electorate.
In an interview, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia agreed with Kaine on both points. Before his election to Congress, Connolly served on the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County, the Washington area’s largest jurisdiction with 1.1 million people. Fairfax routinely is in competition for businesses in neighboring Montgomery County across the Potomac River in Maryland.
“We’re friendly competitors, but we beat you regularly,” Connolly said.
Virginia Democrats fight for their lives
As a red state, Virginia Democrats are “in the competitive arena every day – we’re fighting for our lives.”
“Democrats, to be successful in Virginia, have to focus on results,” Connolly said. “That is a winning formula” for Democratic governors like Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, Chuck Robb and Doug Wilder. “They are seen as non-ideological pragmatic figures.”
“We can’t take anything for granted,” Connolly said.
Asked about the differences with Maryland, Connolly said, “it’s about 10 percent,” the difference in party support.
Kaine will be speaking to the convention Tuesday night early in the evening, before most national TV coverage begins, but O’Malley gets to lead off the 10 p.m. hour.
O’Malley is known to have national ambitions, reflected in his busy schedule and prominent role as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
Political competition an advantage
But Connolly said Maryland’s solid blue status could be a disadvantage.
“It’s harder to put together a competitive campaign,” Connolly said, since as a political leader O’Malley doesn’t have to deal with the opposition.
In Virginia, “you’ve got the battle scars,” Connolly said. “Your armor has been chinked and dented.”
The growing immigrant population in Northern Virginia has caused a demographic shift, and the younger children of immigrants are now moving Democratic as the Republicans portray a message that is against immigrants, the congressman said.
“With the younger generation, we’re making huge inroads,” Connolly said. “The Republican convention looked like they let out the country club early.”
On his own race, Kaine decried the intrusion of secret money by independent groups, but said the $10 million in negative ads being thrown at him “has not moved the polling 1 percent.”
Contact Len Lazarick at Len@MarylandReporter.com