Campaign Crawlers

Tightrope Progressive

How does a Democrat run as a moderate-to-conservative yet still appeal to his party's progressive base? Plus: Le Moyne update.

By 5.6.05

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WASHINGTON -- How does a liberal run as a centrist in a conservative state and keep his base revved up? Cautiously, with a wink and a nod, if a D.C. fundraiser for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Kaine is any indication. While he tours Virginia as a moderate-to-conservative Democrat, he's assuring his liberal bankrollers elsewhere that he's thinks as they do.

Kaine has appeared to abandon previous liberal positions on gun control and the death penalty for vague positions on transportation, education, and the like. But his friends from D.C.-area organized labor knew his true colors Wednesday night as they raised over $7,000 for his campaign at a downtown Washington restaurant-lounge.

Tim Kaine portrays himself as a faithful Catholic, but his friends associate him with a radical former bishop. Danny LeBlanc, president of the Virginia AFL-CIO, aligned himself and Kaine with former Richmond Bishop Walter Sullivan and his very liberal strain of Catholicism. At the fundraiser LeBlanc described meeting Kaine back in the 1980s when Sullivan appointed them to a diocesan committee shaping a "declaration of the rights of working people."

LeBlanc praised Sullivan as "a progressive Catholic who would have not talked from the pulpit about voting for George Bush." The national president of pacifist Pax Christi, Sullivan in his day protested American support for the Contras in Nicaragua, called the nuclear bomb "the ultimate anti-Christ," staffed the diocese with a dissident Catholic who favored the ordination of women, and wouldn't penalize a priest arrested for public lewdness with another man.

Kaine has highlighted his Catholicism in recent weeks to explain his private opposition to capital punishment. Despite calling for a death penalty moratorium in his 2001 race for lieutenant governor, Kaine now says he will enforce the law. Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said Kaine's relationship with Sullivan was "like any parishioner with his bishop."

Attendees were certain that Kaine is a progressive labor man. Solidarity DC, which organized the fundraiser, advertises itself as "bringing the DC area progressive community together." A part-time labor organizer and a full-time Capitol Hill union lobbyist both said they're confident of Kaine's labor credentials. LeBlanc told the sparse, 20-something crowd that Kaine's father was a labor organizer in Missouri. His selling point was Kaine's support for living wage ordinances. "[If Kaine's opponent former attorney general Jerry] Kilgore gets elected, no more living wage in Arlington and Alexandria. That's a fact."

Both cities passed living wage laws in recent years, requiring wages of almost $11 per hour on larger government contracts. Spokeswoman Skinner said yesterday that Kaine does not support raising the statewide minimum wage provisions above the federal minimum wage.

KAINE SUPPORTERS' STATEMENTS were out of step with Tim Kaine's public campaign. In recent months, Kaine has tempered his support for abortion. Despite his gun control activism as mayor of Richmond, Kaine told a Lynchburg, Virginia talk radio show this week that he's "never done anything to oppose the Second Amendment." A casual perusal of his campaign literature would leave outsiders guessing his party affiliation.

Candidate Kaine didn't disappoint those hoping he'd stay on message. Calling into the fundraiser from the road in Virginia, Kaine thanked the "great, young progressive political activists." Despite touting budget reform, increased education funding, and state-funded health insurance for children, Kaine seemed to promise labor officials and the young liberals something more with his use of the word "progressive." They should remain hopeful, he said, even though "Virginia hasn't always been known as a progressive political state." He concluded by thanking them for making his campaign "a winning campaign for progressive values."

Though among the left "progressive" is interchangeable with "liberal," spokeswoman Skinner explained Kaine's "progressive values" differently. "They are the values that he's running his campaign on: pro-family, pro-faith, pro-values, and creating a pro-business environment for the state." (So when did he switch parties?)

For organizer Adam Rosenberg, the race is a national turf war in which liberalism is at stake. "I'm not from Virginia. I've only been to Virginia a couple times," he admitted to his cohort. "But I'm here because I'm a Democrat and I want to keep Virginia blue. That's the same reason all you guys are here. We got people from Maryland, people from D.C., and people from Chicago."

And for all this "progressive" excitement, it's only May. Will liberals stay energized into the fall if Tim Kaine offers them no more than a wink and a nod?

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LE MOYNE UPDATE
Scott McConnell yesterday filed a civil rights lawsuit yesterday against Le Moyne College in the Superior Court of Onondaga County, New York. As detailed by TAS in February, McConnell is the student who was dismissed from the Syracuse, New York school's graduate education program for suggesting in a paper that corporal punishment might have a place in the classroom. McConnell is represented by Manhattan civil rights lawyer Sam Abady and the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights. He is seeking a maximum award of $5 million.

"They destroyed his career just because they didn't like his idea," Abady said yesterday. Abady claims Le Moyne is "ducking the case" by not accepting service of the lawsuit through its lawyer. Le Moyne spokesman Joe Della Posta had a prepared oral statement: "The college will not comment on any aspect of pending or ongoing litigation. As we have all along, Le Moyne stands by our action and is confident the courts will uphold our decision not to admit this individual as a fully matriculated student."

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David Holman is a reporter for The American Spectator.