Gov. Tim Kaine with Sen. Barack Obama. Kaine is on Obama’s short list for Vice President.

Nearly three years ago Virginia’s Governor, Democrat Tim Kaine, came from behind to beat favored Jerry Kilgore, a conservative Republican attorney general whose roots in the state’s deep southwest mountain section both helped and hurt his candidacy.

Rural Virginians across the state liked Kilgore’s farm upbringing and his parents’ sacrifices to see their twin boys and younger son well educated and nurtured for public service. Jerry Kilgore’s steadfast conservatism was a click or two to the left of George Allen and Jim Gilmore, but obviously well to the right of Kaine’s liberal leanings. Jerry never hid his conservative credentials and resisted urgings to head to the middle and compromise his long held views, some say to the detriment of his electability.

Northern Virginia, having changed demographically and politically over a short number of years as Yankees flocked to the state’s nicer weather and high tech jobs, rejected Kilgore’s law and order stance, his mountain culture and dialect, his support of strict gun rights and what they perceived as his anti-environmental position (although as attorney general he amped up the enforcement of all laws, including those protecting land, air and water).

In the end, Kilgore could not match Kaine’s deft transition from ultra-liberal to solid moderate without blinking an eye (although Kaine’s left eyebrow usually made a magnificent arch when it was obvious he was not believing his own “I am a traditional Virginian” rhetoric).

Perceived as Virginia’s most liberal governor, Kaine kept his pro-business promise, even to the extent of re-appointing a member to the state water control board who had been cited twice for violating the state’s clean water laws he was sworn to uphold. Next, Kaine fully embraced a new coal fired power plant in the Virginia coalfields and stood firm as his liberal base accused him of being owned by the power plant applicant, a slave of coal.

One of Virginia’s most influential political blogs, aptly named Raising Kaine, came into prominence bolstering Tim Kaine’s candidacy and image in a state that heretofore had flat out rejected all liberal and most moderate gubernatorial candidates. Kaine, some say, was literally blogged into office by Raising Kaine and other pro-environmental groups, pro-immigrant organizations and the statewide media that had decidedly become more liberal as Republicans were repeatedly vilified for being too pro-business and too anti-tax.

Mark Warner had shown the political world that resisting tax increases could be made to look like Republican-led gridlock and anti-business, while raising taxes for specific good causes became leadership. Never in the state’s history had opposition to raising taxes been conveyed as a bad thing. Running on a platform not to raise taxes again, Kaine won his race and immediately supported a multitude of increases in fees and taxes, citing a change in circumstances as his justification.

When one now visits the Raising Kaine blog, all references to Tim Kaine are gone. Where his name once dominated the home page, a reverse “R” and standard “K” took its place. Most recently, the name “Hussein” fills the space between the “R” and the “K”. Presumably this is a show of support for Barack Hussein Obama, the current favorite of progressives, although he himself is being criticized by some nationwide progressive blogs for tilting toward the middle in an effort to win the White House.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine

Kaine most likely killed any chances he had at being tapped as Obama’s vice-presidential running mate due to his unbending loyalty to perceived polluters and big business. He has also alienated wide swaths of independents. They are finding themselves fairly shocked at him for first embracing the bad driver penalties that affected only Virginians, then at his audacity to recommend higher gas taxes at a time when many working class people can barely afford to drive to and from their jobs.

All in all, Kaine has strayed from one bad policy decision to another, alienating various bases of support without reaping much political capital or securing tangible results along the way. His victory over a traditional conservative Republican could be a playbook for Obama as he follows the same path of winning the nomination by being liberal and pursuing the general election by adopting moderate to conservative viewpoints.

Or, Kaine could serve as a lesson for progressives to call out Obama early and often through liberal media and blog sources, to prevent their candidate from being “Kained” by corporate America and hemmed in by what they believe to be an uninspired political middle.

It will be interesting to see if the Virginia experience will help or hurt Obama. He is going to need every ounce of oratory skill and acrobatic political two-stepping to pull this one off. Being bullied and vilified for decades by conservatives, particularly the late Jessee Helms, progressives do believe their time has come to elect a true believer. No matter which side one supports, America’s fate hangs in the balance.

Frank Kilgore is an attorney in the Virginia coalfields who frequently writes about conservation, education, health care and politics. He is not related to Jerry Kilgore.

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