Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tim Kaine set up the premier Senate race of the 2012 cycle Tuesday, when he made the long-expected announcement that he will run for the Virginia seat.
Kaine, in a video recounting his previous work in Virginia, principally as governor, said what had long been suspected: that he'll run to succeed retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.).
It’s a major recruiting coup for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but it doesn’t guarantee Democrats will hold the seat, mainly because Kaine is likely to face former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in the general election.
Allen was ousted by Webb in 2006 and wants to reclaim his seat if he can first survive the GOP primary. Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke and several other candidates will run to Allen’s right, but the former senator is favored to win the nomination.
A Kaine-Allen match-up would pit two popular former governors and proven fundraisers against one another amid the backdrop of the presidential campaign.
Kaine’s announcement came one day after President Obama declared his intention to run for reelection in 2012. Obama won the traditionally red state of Virginia in 2008 and will look to recapture it next year.
The president is likely to pour significant resources into Virginia, something that will factor into the Senate contest given that Republicans will attack the outgoing DNC chairman as an Obama pawn.
Democrats are betting that a strong Obama operation in the state will help turn out voters in the more liberal Northern Virginia. It's a dynamic that wasn't at play in 2010, when Democrats struggled in the midterms, losing a handful of House seats. Democrats also lost the gubernatorial mansion in 2009.
With 23 seats to defend next year and a slew of open-seat contests that offer Republicans solid pickup opportunities in 2012, national Democrats were desperate to have Kaine get into the race. Observers predict the combination will draw plenty of outside money and interest from third-party groups.
Allen's camp reacted to Kaine's entry by slamming his tenure as Virginia governor and DNC chairman.
"While Chairman Kaine may try to paint a different picture of his tenure as governor, it was marked by his proposals calling for staggering tax increases and by substantial job losses for Virginians," Allen spokeswoman Katie Wright said in a statement Tuesday. "As chairman, Kaine stood with his liberal Washington allies like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as they imposed their harmful agenda on Virginia and America, making trillion-dollar deficits the norm and loading our children with the burden of an unprecedented national debt."
Kaine’s decision also leaves vacant a key DNC position at the beginning of the 2012 campaign season.
The new DNC chairman will be charged with having to lead the committee through Obama's reelection campaign while working to win back the House and preserve the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Kaine initially said he didn’t want to run for the Senate, but received Obama's open encouragement throughout recent weeks.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) wasted no time in criticizing Kaine, particularly for his ties to the Obama administration.
“Now that his fellow party leaders in Washington have twisted Tim Kaine’s arm enough to get him into this race, Republicans welcome the clear contrast that his candidacy presents and the choice before Virginians next year," NRSC communications director Brian Walsh said in a statement. “Over the last several years, Tim Kaine has been the most vocal cheerleader in Washington for the reckless fiscal policies and massive expansion of government that have been the hallmark of the Obama administration."
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) praised Kaine's entry into the race.
"The Republicans have a real Tea Party primary on their hands, and George Allen has a long record of spending and debt that will be a major issue in this race. Rank-and-file conservatives are not as enthusiastic about his candidacy as the establishment in Washington, D.C.," she said in a statement.
The DSCC also blasted out a fundraising appeal after Kaine officially entered the race, touting his candidacy and the state's importance in keeping the party's razor-thin Senate majority next year.
"A net gain of four seats would hand the GOP control of the Senate," the email from DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil read. "Even $5 will make a difference in winning Virginia and saving our Democratic firewall."
This story was originally posted at 1:07 p.m. and was updated at 4:15 p.m.