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Obama and Kaine: Peas in a political pod?

Image: Gov. Tim Kaine
Gov. Tim Kaine
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Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign sent out an early-to-rise, but weirdly blank and eva-sive-looking schedule for his time in Washington on Tuesday.

That, in turn, led to speculation that the Illinois Democrat was about to name his running mate, and that his choice would be Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.

I just asked one of Obama’s chief campaign aides this question via email: “Kaine today?”

He rather cryptically replied: “Not even close.”

We’ll see.

In the meantime, the more you look at it, the more sense Kaine makes as Obama’s running mate. The 50- year-old governor of Virginia and his wife, Anne Holton, fit like precise pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into Obama’s world.

Let’s start with some racial history that is key to their friendship.

Kaine’s father-in-law, Linwood Holton, is a moderate (that is, Lincoln) Republican of the old Southern school.

Back in the 1970s, when public school busing and racial integration was creating a new faction of the GOP — one appealing to the fears and prejudices of working-class white southerners — Holton stood his ground.

As governor of Virginia, he sent his children, including his daughter, Anne, to public schools in Richmond to prove his point.

Anne Holton, a lawyer and judge, is now married to Kaine. And Linwood Holton, who turns 85 in September, remains a revered figure to African Americans and liberal Democrats in the Old Dominion.

He is the very antithesis of the “Southern Strategy” party that Richard Nixon and his successors (including both George Bushes) have built.

Harvard Law School is another deep connection.

Linwood Holton came up from Washington and Lee University to study there.

Obama, his wife, Michelle, Tim Kaine and Ann Holton all are graduates as well.

They didn’t overlap — the Kaine’s are a few years ahead of them — but those Cambridge ties are still strong.

It’s logical that Michelle and Anne are also both Princeton graduates, though Anne is older and they didn’t overlap.

And the connections don't stop there.

They have a personal and political friendship that began shortly after Obama gave his career-launching speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

At Kaine’s invitation, Obama came to Virginia to campaign for him in 2005 as he ran for governor. Young, independent voters and African Americans — two key Obama draws — were crucial to Kaine’s victory in that state.

Kaine returned the favor by being one of the first prominent elected officials in the country to endorse Obama for president. Michelle Obama and Anne Holton have become close as well.

Both families have young children and mixed private and public legal practices. Dedication to family and home life are also of the utmost importance to them.

They are four peas in a pod.

Kaine and Obama even share a past in community service legal work and family roots in small town, rural Kansas.

And there’s one more thing: they share political consultants.

The Benenson Group, headed by Joel Benenson, is advising Obama. The group’s principal consultant, Peter Brodnitz, who gained his reputation handling Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, is advising Kaine.

These consultants have two calling cards: an extremely shrewd, detailed understanding of how to use new media to sample opinion, and an eagerness to operate on turf considered too culturally conservative for Democrats.

Thanks in part to the influence of his consultants, Kaine ran a blog-savvy, net-based campaign. Sound familiar?

It’s a perfect fit in a perfect fit.

So that’s the personal side of the relationship, but there are also some impressive political calculations going on as well.

The key one is not that Kaine is from Virginia — a state Obama thinks he can win — but that he is Catholic.

On one level it is absurd to consider that the nation’s 47 million Catholics is a voting bloc, but they are — and whoever wins them, history shows, wins the White House.

As a result of his missionary work in Latin America, Kaine is also a fluent in Spanish, a terrific asset as Democrats seek to pile up big majorities in the (mostly Catholic) Hispanic community.

Right now Obama is running even among Catholics in his race with Sen. John McCain, but the Illinois senator needs to do better among the demographic in some key states, like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

Kaine’s relatively unique (for a Democrat) support of gun rights could help in the Deer Hunter regions of these and other states.

Kaine is also personally opposed to the death penalty, in adherence to his Catholic faith, but has not stood in the way of executions in his state.

Kaine has another virtue: He is not a Washington hand. Obama and McCain are the first members of Congress ever to run against each other for president, and both — but especially Obama — need to emphasis their outside-the-Beltway roots.

One last thing about that political map: the Obama campaign is making a major play in Virginia, where they have opened 20 local offices — a truly staggering number.

Even after all these shared interests and connections, you still have to ask: Would Kaine help Obama in Virginia?

The governor is not that popular right now. He is too pro-business for some progressives in the state, and his advocacy of gas tax hikes has cost him dearly in public opinion polls. He also hasn’t gotten along with Republicans in the state legislature the way his Democratic predecessor, Mark Warner, did.

He also lacks foreign policy and military experience.

Those are serious drawbacks, but perhaps Obama has concluded that, after his whirlwind trip to the Middle East and Europe, he can handle the commander-in-chief thing on his own.