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Kicking off 2024 reelection bid, Kaine says ‘Virginians are not mean-spirited’

U.S. Sen Tim Kaine, D-Va., kicked off his 2024 reelection bid this week with a campaign stop in Richmond. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)
U.S. Sen Tim Kaine, D-Va., kicked off his 2024 reelection bid this week with a campaign stop in Richmond. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

As he launched his 2024 reelection campaign in Richmond this week, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said being back in the city’s Jackson Ward neighborhood felt like “time has collapsed.”

This story was reported and written by our media partner The Virginia Mercury

Three decades ago, that was where he got his political start knocking doors in his first run for the Richmond City Council. After serving as Virginia’s lieutenant governor and governor and extensively traveling the state, Kaine told supporters Tuesday at Richmond’s Hippodrome Theater, he’s confident Virginians will again reject former President Donald Trump and Republicans like him who “want to tear us down and tear us apart.”

“In good times or bad times, Virginians are not mean-spirited, pessimistic, name-calling complainers,” Kaine said. “We are upbeat, can-do, roll-up-your-sleeves, get-the-job-done people. We stand up for democracy and equality. We stand up for economic opportunity. We stand up for reproductive rights and voting rights. And most importantly, we stand up for each other.”

It’s not yet clear who Kaine’s Republican challenger will be, but the senator’s initial burst of campaign stops this week are a preview of the general-election message Virginia Democrats plan to deploy this year.

Taking aim at former Trump, who lost Virginia in both 2016 and 2020 but  easily won the state’s GOP primary last month, Kaine said his would-be GOP challengers are “marching in lockstep behind this man so intent on tearing us down.”

“Tearing down his opponents, Republicans and Democrats. Tearing down our institutions, professional civil servants, a free press, an independent judiciary,” Kaine said. “Tearing down precious rights, like reproductive freedom, that people have been able to count on for decades. Tearing down alliances like NATO that strengthen democracy here and around the globe. Tearing down personal virtues: honesty, fidelity, patriotism, kindness, respect for others. Even tearing down our democracy.” 

Longtime Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth said he’s doubtful Republicans will be able to make the state a presidential battleground in 2024, after Trump lost to Biden by more than 10 percentage points in 2020. But with Biden’s approval numbers “in the tank” in Virginia, Holsworth said, Kaine and other Democrats probably shouldn’t assume another double-digit victory is coming in 2024.

“My sense is the most worrisome problem the Democrats could have is complacency,” Holsworth said. “I don’t think Kaine can start by thinking it’s a 10-point state. In that sense he should run very hard. “

Holsworth said there could be a “reverse coattails” dynamic in Virginia, with Kaine’s popularity giving a boost to the less popular Democratic president at the top of the ticket. With Republicans seeming to lack a candidate with serious mainstream appeal, he said, Virginia’s U.S. Senate race should be “mildly competitive” at best.

Eight Republicans are currently in the running for their party’s U.S. Senate primary on June 18. 

The biggest fundraisers so far have been former GOP congressional candidate Hung Cao, a U.S. Navy veteran who in 2022, lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton in Northern Virginia’s 10th District, and Scott Parkinson, who works for the conservative economic group Club for Growth and previously served as a congressional aide to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when DeSantis was in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The other Republicans in the field, according to the Virginia Public Access Project: U.S. Army veteran Eddie Garcia; former Border Patrol agent and Trump-era immigration official Ron Vitiello; and attorneys Gwen Hickman, Jonathan Emord and Chuck Smith.

The Republicans hoping to run against Kaine have also sought to tie the incumbent to the not-particularly-popular leader of the Democratic Party, portraying Kaine as a reliable ally to Biden and a supporter of Democratic economic and immigration policies that have contributed to Biden’s low approval ratings. Several candidates recently attacked Kaine for saying he felt it was irresponsible and inflammatory to use the word “invasion” to describe illegal crossings at the Southern border.

“What we are witnessing at our Southern Border is an invasion despite what Tim Kaine and his Democrat colleagues want to call it, and they caused it to get to this point,” Cao said in a recent Facebook post. “If he wants to point fingers at anyone, it should be at himself and his colleagues. They want it this way. Period.” 

In a recent  social media post on X, Parkinson called the border crossings an invasion and said the situation was caused by “radical liberals like Kaine.”

Kaine has described what’s happening at the border as a “crisis” and has emphasized his efforts to strike a bipartisan deal on immigration policy. During his appearance in Richmond, he called for immigration reform to be done in “a way that honors our immigrant roots, ensures a vibrant workforce and creates a border that can be controlled.”

Kaine also offered a defense of the state of the economy under Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“Joe and Kamala have ensured that America has rebounded out of COVID-19 better than any nation on the planet,” Kaine said. “Jobs are up. Wages are up. Retirement savings are up. The percentage of folks without health insurance is lower than it’s ever been in the history of the United States.”

In a sign of the discontent some on the left feel toward Democratic leaders, several demonstrators interrupted Kaine’s event at the Hippodrome with shouted commentary about Gaza.  One protester asked Kaine when he was going to “stand up” against the bombing campaign Israel is carrying out in response to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants.

Kaine said he understood the emotion and “heartbreak” people are feeling about Gaza.

“We need to find a hostage deal,” he said. “We need to find a ceasefire.”

Speaking with reporters after the event, Kaine said he’s not taking his 2024 race for granted, but noted that his potential Republican challengers don’t appear to be doing themselves any favors by clamoring for credibility with their party’s Trump-loving base.

“When they go on radio shows to try to get press, they’re kind of leapfrogging over each other to get more and more aligned with the MAGA wing of the Republican Party,” Kaine said.

Because neither party may be inclined to devote major resources to Virginia in the presidential race, Kaine said he intends to help set up a Democratic campaign structure that can also assist Democratic candidates in competitive congressional races in the Hampton Roads-based 2nd District and the open races for the 10th and 7th districts in Northern Virginia.

“I’m going to very much run my race to focus on those three districts,” Kaine said.

Kaine was joined onstage at the Richmond event by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who praised Kaine’s persistent sense of optimism at a rough time for national politics. To reinforce that point, Warner recalled the time Kaine spent 27 hours  stuck on a snow-blocked highway between Richmond and D.C.

“If I had been caught in that snowstorm on 95, as chairman of the intelligence committee I would have brought in a CIA swat team to get me out,” Warner joked. “As opposed to Tim, peacefully sitting there with his water and orange.”