Sunday, February 18, 2007

Virginia governor backs Obama's '08 bid - State seen as potential campaign battleground

Virginia governor backs Obama's '08 bid - State seen as potential campaign battleground
By Mike Dorning
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 18, 2007

RICHMOND, Va. -- A week after beginning his presidential campaign by evoking the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, Democrat Barack Obama on Saturday demonstrated support on the other side of the historic Civil War divide, traveling to the former capital of the Confederacy to collect the endorsement of a red-state governor.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, became the first governor outside Illinois to endorse Obama, a first-term senator.

Kaine delivered his endorsement at an outdoor news conference near the Virginia State Capitol Building, which housed the Confederate Congress.

"Here we are in the heart of what was the Confederacy," Obama said, "and for me to be able to stand here as an African-American reflects the enormous progress that this country has made and, I think, to some degree represents not the perfection of the Union but a whole lot of progress in perfecting this Union."

Virginia is not among the four early primary and caucus states on which presidential candidates traditionally concentrate efforts to build momentum toward a party nomination.

But the state is a potential battleground between the major parties in the next general election, and it is emblematic of the kind of moderate-to-conservative state Democrats must pick up to win the White House.

Though Virginia has not supported a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson's election in 1964, Democrats recently have shown greater strength in the state.

The more liberal Washington, D.C., suburbs in northern Virginia represent a growing portion of the state's population. Democratic candidates have won the governor's mansion during the last two elections and Democrats took a U.S. Senate seat here last year with the election of Iraq war critic Jim Webb.

Kaine's public declaration of support places the considerable political apparatus of a governor behind Obama. And it represents a display of confidence when most governors are biding their time as they watch the candidates' early performances.

In announcing his endorsement, Kaine praised Obama for the enthusiasm he has generated among Democrats and the commitment to public service he showed as a community organizer and later as an advocate of ethics reform and a change in the Illinois death penalty system.

"You know an awful lot about this person if you chart what he has done," Kaine said. "The values orientation that this man has and will bring to the task makes me very confident."

Obama added his political star power to Kaine's 2005 gubernatorial race, visiting Virginia to campaign for him when Kaine was lagging in the polls.

The two politicians are three years apart in age--Kaine is 48, Obama 45--and have similar backgrounds.

Both are Harvard Law School graduates who also married Harvard Law graduates. Both are former civil rights attorneys. And both chose low-paying public service jobs after college, with Obama working as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side and Kaine serving as a lay Catholic missionary in Central America.

Their spouses, Michelle Obama and Anne Holton, were on hand for Saturday's endorsement.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich endorsed Obama on the day he announced his candidacy.

While in Richmond, Obama also spoke at the Virginia Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner, for which the party sold a record 3,500 tickets, said Mark Bergman, a party spokesman.

In his speech, Obama offered a nod to a home-state favorite of many in the room--former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who abandoned a planned presidential bid last fall. "I understand you can't replace that one true love, but maybe I can get you through these difficult times," he said.

Warner, speaking before Obama, did not offer an endorsement but praised him for "inspiring hope and enthusiasm and inspiring thousands of people to get involved in this process."

Earlier in the day, Obama was in Orangeburg, S.C., for a speech to students and townspeople at Claflin University, a historically black school.



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