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Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Virginian speaks up for Democrats

The Washington Post

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Democratic Gov. Timothy Kaine capped an extraordinary day in the national political spotlight Tuesday by offering the Democratic Party's response to President Bush's State of the Union speech.

In a nine-minute address, broadcast live from the ballroom of the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Kaine assailed the administration's performance in Iraq, its response to Hurricane Katrina and its management of the nation's health-care system. He urged Bush to restore the competence Kaine said is lacking in government.

"The federal government should serve the American people," Kaine said. "But that mission is frustrated by this administration's poor choices and bad management.

"Families in the Gulf Coast see that as they wait to rebuild their lives. Americans who lose their jobs see that as they look to rebuild their careers. And our soldiers in Iraq see that as they try to rebuild a nation."

But he also repeatedly held up Virginia as an example of how Democrats and Republicans in Washington can work together to confront national disasters, rein in the federal budget and revamp the health-care system.

"In Virginia," he said, "we have worked to provide health-insurance coverage for nearly 140,000 children who weren't covered four years ago. And Republicans and Democrats alike have banded together to fight the administration's efforts to slash Medicaid and push more costs onto the states."

Kaine, 47, barely had begun his term last month when the national Democratic Party invited him to deliver the response to Bush.

"It was kind of like, 'Let Mikey try it,' " Kaine joked during a morning radio show.

Some factions in the party were dissatisfied with the choice of Kaine. Liberal Web logs, for example, were uncomfortable with his willingness during last year's campaign to invoke his religious beliefs. Kaine, the first Roman Catholic governor of Virginia, opposes abortion and the death penalty, but he assured Virginians he would uphold the law on both.

Kaine spent the morning and afternoon in Washington, speaking at a political reporters' breakfast, posing for cameras with congressional leaders and briefing television anchors.

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Kaine was humble — "I'm not an expert on foreign policy or the war" — but also sure of himself as he parried questions about lobbying scandals, warrantless searches, Democratic presidential politics and the direction of the Iraq war.

His communications director, Delacey Skinner, said she received a call in early December from a staff member with the Democratic Governors Association, raising the idea of Kaine giving the response to Bush.

"Everyone's initial reaction was, 'Wow. What an honor,' " she said.

Although flattered, Kaine insisted on editorial control of the speech.

"I said, 'I got one precondition. I got complete editorial control.' They said, 'OK, we'll give you that,' and I said, 'Fine, I'll do it,' " Kaine said. "I'm going to say what I think needs to be said, and they seem very comfortable with that."

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