Centrist Democrats Notch Big Win

Finding the middle pays off in red-state Virginia

WASHINGTON, D.C.-If there are any real winners in yesterday's elections, they're the center-right Democrats gathered around the Democratic Leadership Council.

Their key victory was in the Virginia governor's race, where Timothy Kaine easily beat the Republican Jerry W. Kilgore 52-46 percent. In the New Jersey gubernatorial bout, multimillionaire senator Jon Corzine kept that state in the Democratic column.

But while the Dems are hailed as victors, the Texas ban on gay marriage and Kansas's decision earlier in the week to take on evolution by teaching creationism in the state schools are signs of continuing strength by the Christian right.

Kaine, a devout Catholic, showed Democrats can play that game, too. He ran openly against the death penalty in this red state. He is against abortion. He adroitly used religion in his campaign, noting in a radio ad, “The Bible teaches we can accomplish great things when we work together.''

The pros thought the Virginia race would be much closer, especially since Bush handily carried the state in 2004. Now, Bush is the kiss of death. The Republican candidate, Kilgore, had done his best to stay clear of the tumbling president lest he get sucked down with him. To that end, he cancelled out of an appearance with Bush in Norfolk just days before the election. But at the last poor Kilgore gave in: His picture, along with that of a dopey-looking Bush, was plastered in the media across the state. At least Kilgore maintained his civility to the end.

Kaine's victory is really a big vote of confidence for the outgoing governor, Democrat Mark Warner. Warner is immensely popular, and Kaine ran a campaign modeled on those of the governor's.

Warner now becomes a serious prospect for a Democratic presidential or vice presidential candidate. He leaves Richmond to build his own campaign for national office.

A fiscal conservative Warner speaks for what he calls “sensible center'' in an October 21 article in Blueprint, the DLC magazine. He is a backer of hi-tech education and shows a tendency among other centrist Democrats to forge an opening toward the world of conservative lifestyle issues.

This should be good news for Hillary Clinton. Warner represents her end of the party, and the party's victory in Virginia is another indication she and the centrists are on the money. In this campaign, the Democrats used religion straight on. It is clearly a prelude of political battles to come in which the Democrats will take on the Christian right.

During the race, Kaine talked about his earlier life as a missionary and, when attacked for opposing the death penalty, actually ran an ad pointing out his opposition-arguing along moral lines against both abortion and putting prisoners to death. He pledged to carry out Virginia's capital punishment policy.

By tens of thousands, Kaine carried counties that had gone for Bush in the last election. Virginia has not backed a Democratic presidential candidate since LBJ. Virginia now is viewed as one of the best-governed states in the country.

Warner, meanwhile, owes his success to the new Democratic model - seek the middle, build concensus. “I'm very proud of the fact that I had a united Democratic Party behind me,'' writes Warner. But I would not be governor of one of the reddest states in America -- Virginia -- if I also hadn't been able to get support from a lot of independents and moderate Republicans. If Democrats are going to become the majority party in America again, we've got to do that all over the country.”

 
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