Senate races

VA Dems jockey for Kaine’s seat

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Virginia Democrats are scrambling to figure out who will replace Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) if Hillary Clinton wins the White House.

With the polls tilting decisively in Clinton’s favor, it appears increasingly likely that Kaine will be elected vice president. The task of filling his Senate seat would fall to Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

{mosads}The pick is of huge importance to Democrats. 

Kaine’s replacement would face grueling back-to-back elections, with a special election in 2017 followed by a race for a six-year term in 2018 — a year when Democrats will already be facing a daunting map. 

Democrats would need a replacement with a proven ability to raise large sums of money, and fast, for the electoral gauntlet ahead. 

Officially, McAuliffe is remaining focused on the 2016 election and making sure his state goes for Clinton, a longtime ally he worked for during her 2008 campaign. He has ruled out appointing himself to the seat, however.

“He has said he will not focus on a potential appointment for a potential vacancy until after this year’s election,” said Brian Coy, McAuliffe’s communications director. 

Yet McAuliffe has ruled out going the route of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and appointing a caretaker to the seat.

“It’s the governor’s prerogative,” said consultant Bob Holsworth. “So the governor’s going to make a choice that is based on what he considers to be best not only Virginia but for himself.” 

The Virginia governor has hinted that he has his eye on making history, with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) widely seen as the top candidate to replace Kaine.

Geoffrey Skelley, an associate editor with the Virginia-based Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said of the race to replace Kaine: “It’s like tier one Bobby Scott. … Tier three, everyone else”

“[He] seems to be the very likely choice should there be a vacancy,” he said. “Scott is certainly the odds-on favorite.”

Scott was the first African-American to be elected to Congress from Virginia since Reconstruction. If McAuliffe appointed him to the Senate, he would become the first African-American to represent the state in the Senate.

He topped a list of potential appointees in a poll released late last month from the Virginia-based Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy/Christopher Newport University. 

Scott is so far playing coy, saying he’s “focused on winning reelection” and helping the Clinton-Kaine ticket win the White House.

“I am flattered that many in Virginia think that I am qualified and would be an effective senator for the Commonwealth,” he said in a statement.

But Scott is not known to be a prolific fundraiser, and holding the Senate seat would require raising millions of dollars over a two-year period. 

Under Virginia election law, McAuliffe’s appointee would have to run in November 2017 for the last year of Kaine’s term before turning around and seeking a full six-year term in 2018, when Democrats will be defending 23 Senate seats. 

Scott raised nearly $193,000 during the third quarter, according to Federal Election Commission records, and had more than $196,000 cash on hand as of Sept. 30.

Both Holsworth and Stephen J. Farnsworth — a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington — said they doubt Scott would have any trouble fundraising if he were appointed to the seat.

“It’s inconceivable to me that he couldn’t raise substantial sums of money,” Holsworth said. “I’ve heard that said a number of times, but in terms of his support among Democrats statewide … there’s really no comparison.”

Farnsworth said no matter who McAuliffe appoints to the seat, “it would seem quite likely to me that fundraising would not be a problem” because Virginia would likely be the only Senate race next year.

Scott has brushed aside concerns about fundraising, telling The Washington Post last month, “I’ll be able to raise what’s necessary.” 

Other potential picks for the seat include Reps. Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly, the state’s two other Democratic congressman, who both each had more money in the bank than Scott as of the end of September. 

Beyer raised more than $322,000 in the third quarter and had nearly $773,250 on hand. Connolly raised more than $252,500 and had more than $2.4 million on hand. 

“Both Connolly and Beyer have more experience with fundraising but they may not generate the kind of increase in statewide turnout” that Scott would, Farnsworth said. 

The Connolly and Beyer came in second and third place — garnering 9 and 8 percent, respectively — in last month’s Christopher Newport University poll, which asked Virginia Democrats who they would like to see appointed.

Holsworth said Beyer would be an “excellent” senator — calling him a “smart, well-read policy-oriented creative guy.” Still, Beyer lost to Jim Gilmore in 1997 when he ran for governor of Virginia.

None of the state’s three Democratic congressmen come from districts that would be likely to flip to Republicans. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates all of their House seats as a “solid D.”

State Del. Jennifer McClellan — who has ties to Kaine — is also being floated as a possible pick. Her appointment would let McAuliffe make history by appointing the state’s first African-American senator and the first female senator. 

“I’d be surprised if it’s anyone besides Scott or McClellan,” Holsworth said.

Holsworth said McClellan is well-respected in the party and Virginia’s House of Delegates and could be the top pick if the governor wants to go for a “generational change.”

“She’s not going to have the same kind of name recognition [and] visibility,” he said. “In a lot of ways she’s a good choice, but is she the best choice?”

Attorney General Mark Herring is also in the mix, though he’s currently slated to run for reelection and Democrats — who have a thin bench in Virginia — could be reluctant to potentially lose a statewide office.

Republicans are already eying the potential Senate race. Possible candidates include Rep. David Brat — who unseated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — and Reps. Rob Wittman and Barbara Comstock, who is in danger of losing her reelection race.

Tags Bobby Scott Eric Cantor Gerry Connolly Hillary Clinton Rob Wittman Tim Kaine

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