By Alex Koma
On one morning in the thick of the 2016 campaign, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., remembers getting an unusual warning from his staff: there’s a recording online of you yelling at your mistress.
Kaine was more bemused by that news than anything, secure in the knowledge that he had no mistress to berate. But he took a listen anyway, only to discover that a peddler of “fake news” was trying to pass off a 2010 tirade by Mel Gibson as coming from the vice presidential nominee.
“I told this story to somebody and I said, ‘It wasn’t me; it was Mel Gibson,’” Kaine said. “And he said, ‘Why would Mel Gibson yell at your mistress?’”
Kaine can joke about such spurious stories now, with ticket mate Hillary Clinton’s loss more than a year behind him, and he deployed the anecdote with a smile in a lengthy sit-down interview with InsideNoVa, a sister publication of the Rappahannock News.
The senator thinks there’s room for a bipartisan deal on stabilizing the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance markets, as well as banking reform legislation designed to reduce the regulatory burdens on community banks imposed by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.
But as he gears up for his Senate re-election campaign ahead of the November midterms, the junior senator from Virginia is well aware that he’ll soon become a target of such bruising attacks once more.
Some may come from foreign adversaries in the form of more fake news — Kaine feels that the Trump administration hasn’t done nearly enough to combat Russian efforts to meddle in future American elections. Other broadsides may not be quite so exotic but just as controversial.
Corey Stewart, chairman of Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a leading contender for the Republican nomination to take on Kaine, has already started lobbing bombs in the Democrat’s direction. On Twitter, Stewart has called Kaine “the bag man for Hillary’s criminal outfit” and suggested Kaine’s youngest son, Woody, should be “first in line” to be sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp after being charged with a misdemeanor for disrupting a Trump rally in Minnesota last year.
Just as he can’t help but laugh about claims that he’s leaving voicemails for nonexistent mistresses, Kaine is taking that sort of talk in stride.
“It’s just very Corey,” Kaine said. “You’re not going to hear me dignifying that out in the campaign. If he wants to make it about my kid, he can make it about my kid. I don’t think that’s what Virginians want to have from somebody in public office.”
Stewart may be the most deliberately outrageous of the Republicans vying for Kaine’s seat, but many of the other GOP hopefuls have courted controversy too. Minister E.W. Jackson has previously said that gays and lesbians are “perverted” while Del. Nick Freitas, R-30th District, blamed “the abortion industry” for breaking apart families. Bert Mizusawa, a retired Army Reserve major general, and political newcomers Ivan Raiklin and Minerva Diaz are also running.
In short, Kaine may very well have to fend off such insults through Nov. 6, even if he doesn’t end up facing Stewart, and he’s preparing accordingly.
“You’ve got to be yourself,” Kaine said.
Whether it’s fending off attacks from his left or his right, Kaine believes his record over his last two decades in Virginia politics will ultimately help him get another term in the Senate. As he points out, he carried the state with Clinton by 5 percentage points in 2016, and Democrats scored sweeping victories up and down the ballot in the state elections in 2017.
With the party looking to replicate that success in all the congressional races in 2018, Kaine is hoping he can play some small role in making sure he’s not the only Democrat headed to Washington next year.
“In 2012, the president’s at the top of the ticket and they’re making the investment in the state if it’s a battleground,” Kaine said. “That’s my responsibility in 2018. That’s the challenge of running a statewide race.”
About our local races
Sen. Tim Kaine on his plans for involvement in this year’s Congressional races, and how he works with areas that don’t necessarily support him:
Endorsing: “I will not endorse in primaries. I make an exception in presidential, because sometimes a presidential election is a way to make your state relevant in the general, but when it comes to races in Virginia, I pretty much know anybody. I’ve recruited them and helped them and they’ve helped me.
Campaigning: “My attitude is, I will run with my team. But I will not say negative things about Republican incumbents. That’s how I did it as governor. If I was trying to help win the state senate in 2007, and we did win, I said a lot of good things about the Democrats I was helping, but I didn’t say negative things about the Republicans they were running against because I have relationships with our members of Congress.”
Reaching out the other side: “There’s no part of the state that’s said, we’ve never seen you here. I’ve had 24 years of visits. That includes parts of the state where I don’t do that well, that aren’t Democratic. We spend a lot of time in Southwest Virginia for family, unrelated to politics. I don’t necessarily get a big vote total, but then people know, well he’s not just here at election time . . . I can pretty much go into any part of the state, almost any zip code and say, ‘I can show you my thumbprint on this.’”