It is beginning to dawn on Virginia Republicans that the vote by their colleagues in the House of Delegates to kill an initiative to extend unemployment benefits was a huge blunder that could cost them dearly in this November’s state elections, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine told the News-Press during an appearance at a fundraising event in McLean Tuesday.
“I think some of them are beginning to realize the mistake they made,” Kaine said, although he said that the impact of the vote will be huge come November regardless.
Democrats are now more hopeful than ever that they can gain six new seats needed to win a majority in the House of Delegates. All of the delegate seats, and half of the State Senate seats, are up for grabs this November, and many of the Republican incumbents who voted to kill the unemployment extension represent districts where unemployment rates are in double-digits and expected to rise further this year.
Kaine, who is in his final eight months as governor and already active as the new chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), appeared Tuesday at the McLean home of Mark Lowham and Dr. Joseph Ruzzo to help in the fundraising efforts of Democratic Del. Jim Scott, whose 53rd District includes areas of eastern Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church.
Scott, who has represented the 53rd District since 1991, will face a challenge from a conservative GOP blogger, Christopher Merola. Scott, who has not faced a serious electoral challenge since 2001, noted Tuesday that his opponent is a newcomer to the 53rd District, registering to vote in it the same day he officially filed to run for office.
Speaking to a robust crowd of Scott supporters, Kaine said he was particularly pleased by the political shift in Virginia that occurred during his tenure as governor, including an electoral majority for a Democrat in the U.S. presidential election for the first time in 44 years.
“It’s been one of the joys of my life” to see Virginia move from a “non-competitive to competitive status” in the national elections, Kaine said. “Now, for the next 20 to 30 years, both parties are going to have to figure out how to win in Virginia.”
He said that means the state will “get a lot of attention” from now on, to the benefit of Virginia voters and their issues.
Kaine said that as the new chair of the DNC, “I am in a very good mood today,” referring to the win claimed by the Democrats in the tight 20th District race in New York, and the defection of Sen. Arlen Spector from the GOP to the Democratic Party announced earlier that day.
Kaine told the News-Press that he is now coming from Richmond to Washington, D.C., at least once a week to execute his DNC Chair duties, which includes working closely with the DNC’s immediate past-chair Howard Dean.
He said he intends to continue the highly-successful “50 state policy” introduced by Dean that produced extraordinary results in last November’s national election. He said the focus will be on building and strengthening grass roots advocacy networks in all 50 states that will be separate from the existing Democratic Party organizational structure. This will allow the grass roots to bypass local organizations and speak directly to Washington on their issues, he said.
Scott hailed Kaine as one of the first “to recognize Barack Obama’s presidential potential,” in the launch of his campaign. He called Kaine a “man of principle,” and noted that a lot of Republican obstructionism in the House of Delegates in the recently-completed Richmond legislative session was aimed solely at preventing Kaine from succeeding as effectively as his predecessor, now-U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, when he was governor.
“Stopping Tim from being successful was the only issue they had,” Scott said, which contributed to their self-destructive vote to block Kaine’s initiative for providing additional federal funds to extend unemployment benefits in the state.
Kaine hailed Scott for being “the epitome of a Virginia gentleman,” who continues to serve in elected office “for the right reasons.” Kaine said that Scott “stands strong for what he believes, but remains anchored in the needs of his constituents and the state.” By contrast, he noted, GOP members of the House of Delegates “knew how to say ‘no,’ but didn’t know what to say ‘yes’ to.”