I just got off a conference call with Tim Kaine’s campaign manager, Mike Henry, and Senior Adviser Mo Elleithee, in which they outlined the state of the race for U.S. Senate in 2012. Here are my edited notes.
Mike Henry said he’s “excited about what we’ve accomplished” so far.
According to Henry, the Kaine campaign’s focused on four main things. First, building a strong financial foundation, both in terms of grassroots dollars and also in terms of running a “lean and mean” campaign. “Lean and mean” is particularly important, given all the outside spending from pro-Republican groups. Also of note, Allen’s campaign has not been as thrifty as the Kaine campaign, having spent as much as they brought in the last quarter, giving the Kaine campaign a cash-on-hand advantage. This is important as negative and false ads are already running and expected to continue)
Second, according to Henry, the Kaine campaign’s focused on voter outreach, getting Tim around the Commonwealth, including incredible trips to Southside, Southwest, the urban crescent, pretty much every geographic region in the state. Kaine’s gotten a really really good response so far.
Third, the Kaine campaign is focused on online organizing, which is becoming more and more important. Henry is very proud of the Kaine campaign’s website, which will help arm grassroots activists with the ability to get involved, also is a fully functional mobile site. The Kaine campaign is organizing through smart phones as opposed to just “old fashioned computers.” They’ve also got a fully functional Spanish language site, not just one page.
Fourth, the Kaine campaign’s been focused on constituency outreach, building a large field and political program to reach out to people from all walks of life. That includes the faith community, particularly important given Tim’s background and that faith has been such a big part of his life. Also focused on college campuses organizing, reaching out to constituency groups and organizing in key battleground communities and counties. For instance, the Kaine campaign has a very aggressive program to focus on Virginia’s Latino population.
Finally, according to Mike Henry, the campaign’s off to a great start, but no doubt this will be a competitive race, which is why “we’re definitely bringing our A game to this race.”
According to Mo Elleithee, the Kaine campaign’s excited about tomorrow’s debate. They expect it to be lively, laying out a strong contrast between two very different candidates with two very different visions about how to get the economy back on track and what fiscal responsibility means. For instance, Elleithee notes, Allen spent six years in Washington supporting economic policies that got us into the crisis we’re in today, squandering the largest surplus in American history and turning it into a huge deficit. And now, after all that, he’s asking voters to reelect him to the U.S. Senate so he can do more of same.
In contrast, Mo Elleithee says that Tim Kaine has a record of real fiscal responsibility, governing during one of the worst recessions in American history, cutting the budget while continuing to invest in key priorities like education that are critical to Virginia’s economy. That’s why Virginia’s still ranked the best state for business, and why we weathered the economic storm with a lower unemployment rate than other states.
According to Elleithee, Kaine and Allen have fundamentally different visions on how to get the economy moving again. Unlike Allen, for example, Kaine believes we need to invest in people and infrastructure, so we can keep our economy strong, competitive, and moving forward.
The debate tomorrow will follow along those lines. Essentially, we’ve got one guy (Allen) who says we need to fight Washington every chance we get. Then we’ve got another guy (Kaine), who says the federal government and Virginia’s economies are linked, that it’s better to FIX Washington not just FIGHT it. Unlike Allen, Kaine has a willingness to actually work together.
Both guys, according to Mo Elleithee, are experienced, both have stood on statewide debate stages before, both are pretty good at it, and we expect both candidates to make their points and make them well. This is the beginning of a long conversation over the next 11 months. When we lay out these contrasts, we feel pretty good about the outcome.
Question from Dave Catanese (Politico) on Kaine as DNC chair vs. Allen supporting Bush.
Elleithee: Allen has said repeatedly that the best way to see what someone is going to do is to look at what they’ve done in the past. Well, let’s look at Allen’s record then. He says send me back to Washington despite the fact that my votes got us into this mess in the first place so I can do it all over again. There’s not much of an appetite in Virginia for that. Virginians want someone to put partisanship aside and work for the common good. George Allen has shown no interest in doing that, finding common ground, working across party lines, focusing on challenges of the future. He’s pushing the same, failed economic policies that got us into this mess. Look at their records as elected leaders – very, very stark contrast.
Tim Kaine governed during the recession that George Allen created. Allen handed Kaine and other governors a big mess. It’s basically the guy who helped create the mess vs. the guy who helped Virginia weather the storm.
Question from Wesley Hester of the Richmond Times Dispatch on the Allen campaign trying to tie Kaine with Obama. Do you think you can win Virginia if Obama does not?
Mo Elleithee: I actually feel good about Obama’s chances in Virginia. If you look at all the polls, both the presidential and Senate races are very competitive, and there’s no reason to believe that this will change between now and November 2012. This will be a very competitive state. Despite throwing the kitchen sink at Kaine, there’s been consistency in every poll. Voters will look at the two candidates, their individual records, and make a decision based on that. Kaine’s doing well in every region of the state he needs to win. Kaine’s doing well with independent voters. If the Allen people want to continue spending their time and money on tying Kaine to Obama, I say god bless em, I just ask for an address to send a thank you note to. It just shows that they don’t want to focus on George Allen’s failed record and how he’ll do things different this time than last time.
Question from Mike Shear of the NY Times on whether “macaca” is a relevant issue for this campaign? If not, will you tell/insist that others do not talk about the issue in their ads, etc?
Mo Elleithee: I agree with Gov. Kaine – anything in any candidate’s record is fair game for discussion, anything they’ve said or done is something voters will consider. Voters want leaders with a record of bringing people together and a desire to UNITE people as opposed to DIVIDE. If you look at the records of George Allen and Tim Kaine, those are very different records. Kaine worked across party, geographic lines, to unite Virginians of all types toward the common good. Allen has a long record of putting partisanship and ideology above all else, pitting one group against the other. That contrast will become very evident during this campaign. Bringing people together (Kaine) vs. tearing them apart (Allen).
Question from Robert McCartney of the Washington Post on tying Allen to policies that brought about recession. What specific policies?
Mo Elleithee: A lot of this will come up in the debate tomorrow. In general: on their fiscal records, Allen took office when America had a huge surplus and voted repeatedly for every single budget that turned the surplus into a deficit. That record put us in very tenuous fiscal and economic footing, and George Allen will have to answer for that, especially now that he’s running around the state claiming to be a fiscal conservative – he had a chance to do that and he didn’t. Allen will have to answer for his record and reconcile that with his rhetoric. Now he’s pushing for increased tax breaks for wealthiest Americans, big oil, etc. at the expense of education, infrastructure, Virginia’s defense industry, many of Virginia’s small business owners. That approach has been tried, didn’t work. He’s saying let’s go back to old, failed approach. Record doesn’t match the rhetoric on the fiscal matters. Allen’s preferred economic policies are failed, why would we want to give them another go?
Question from Ray Reed of the News and Advance on whether the economy will determine the race.
Mo Elleithee: We have seen some very slow economic improvement over past couple years, certainly since George Allen took a wrecking ball to it. Clearly, there’s still a long long way to go. What’s going to dictate our chances of winning this seat have more to do with the economic visions both guys put forward. Virginians know there’s a long way to go. They will vote for person they want to take us down that road. George Allen wants to pull a U-turn and takes us right back. Kaine knows that we need to keep moving forward to keep up with competitors on the international stage, including investment in green technology, R&D investment at Virgnia’s institutions of higher education. Allen wants to go right back to same old policies that got us into this mess in the first place. The economic climate is important, but the candidates’ visions are just as important.