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Kaine calls for Democrats to follow Truman's lead, and get tough, not freak out

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 27, 2010 - Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine says his visit today to St. Louis, coinciding with President Barack Obama's State of the Union address does, indeed, underscore the national importance of Missouri's congressional elections this year.

But Kaine also hopes that Democrats nationally will take a lesson from Missouri's past and "avoid freaking out'' about recent political setbacks.

While Obama's intent tonight is to reassure the nation, Kaine's visit appears aimed in part at reassuring fellow Democrats.

Kaine said in an exclusive telephone interview Tuesday that Democrats nationally should recall the political lessons offered by the Show Me State's son who once occupied the White House, former President Harry S Truman.

"The ghost of Harry Truman would come back" and tell fellow Democrats to buck up and carry on, said Kaine, a Mizzou graduate and the former governor of Virginia.

Kaine added that he's "not white-washing'' the political and governmental challenges facing Democrats, especially in the U.S. Senate, as a result of last week's Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts, which soon will rob Democrats of their filibuster-proof 60-vote edge (including two independents).

Democrats also lost two key contests for governor last fall, including Kaine's old post in Virginia.

But Kaine, who has just finished re-reading a biography of Truman, said that Democrats nationally are in far better shape heading into the 2010 mid-terms than their counterparts in 1946, just one a year after Truman had taken office following the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

Amid public unrest, the GOP captured control of Congress in 1946.  In 1948, Truman had been expected to be replaced by a Republican as well.  Instead, Truman won in one of history's most dramatic presidential comebacks -- and he helped carry enough Democrats with him to retake the U.S. Senate.

As it stands now, Kaine continued, Democrats hold more seats in the U.S. Senate than they have held since 1979.

And contrary to public perceptions, he continued, Democrats are in a stronger position than Republicans when it comes in retirements announced so far this year by members of Congress and governors.

  • In the Senate, six Republicans and two Democrats have announced they are retiring.
  • In the House, 14 Republicans and 11 Democrats have declared they're leaving
  • Among the outgoing governors, four Republicans and two Democrats are voluntarily on their way out.

Kaine agreed that some congressional Democrats face re-election challenges this fall. But he went on to assert that the Missouri contest for the U.S. Senate, in particular, is among several races around the country that Kaine believes offer the opportunity for the national Democratic Party to "play offense," and hopefully snag a post left open by a retiring Republican.
Kaine emphasized that he is optimistic about the chances of Missouri's only announced Democratic candidate for the Senate, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who is seeking succeed outgoing Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo.

Carnahan's best-known GOP rival is U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, who edged out Carnahan in the latest independent poll by Rasmussen.

Kaine added that he hopes to be in Missouri "a good bunch'' to help her Senate campaign.

He noted that he knows Missouri well, since he grew up in the Kansas City area before heading off to the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Kaine does not expect to meet with Carnahan during this visit, but emphasized that he has had regular communications with her and her staff.

His schedule today and tomorrow calls for two fund-raising events for the Democratic National Committee, one tonight and the second Thursday morning. The first is a $5,000-a-plate event at the home of Bob Clark, head of Clayco and a longtime Obama backer; the second is a $250 breakfast hosted by Josephine Weil, wife of Beacon board chairman Richard Weil.

Kaine also is slated to hold a number of private meetings with local supporters and potential donors, among others. "I want to start building the relationships'' that will be important this fall, he said.

But tonight, he'll join local Democratic activists gathered at the local office of Organizing for America (Obama's post-election political arm), 3407 California Avenue, for a watch party during the president's address.

The point of that stop, Kaine said, is to underscore that his St. Louis visit is about party-building and "not just about the fundraising."

UPDATE: The Republican National Committee declared this afternoon that Kaine may be failing to hear what the public is saying, in Missouri and around the country.

Said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski in a statement, "With his party's recent losses in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, DNC Chairman Kaine should pay close attention while he is inMissouri watching as the president explains to the nation where his policies went wrong and how he's going to fix it.

"Even when Americans need jobs more than anything, Democrats have focused on a failed stimulus, the cap and trade national energy tax and government-run health care that won't do anything to bring costs down. They didn't listen as voters sent a message of fiscal responsibility to the nation in townhalls and listening sessions. But in recent elections, voters were loud and clear: start listening or we'll elect someone who will.

"With rising unemployment now at 9.6 percent, Missouri voters are no different. So far Senate candidate Robin Carnahan has been silent on why she supports the Obama-Pelosi agenda, but Kaine's stop to rally the troops on her behalf speaks louder than words. The people of Missouri deserve to know if Carnahan plans to work for her constituents or if she will be a pawn for Kaine and the failed Democrat policies."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.