RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee and a fixture in Virginia politics for decades, said Friday that he would seek reelection next year, easing his party’s worries about holding on to a seat in a state now led by a Republican governor.
Kaine, 64, said he had grappled with the decision because of the length of the possible commitment: a two-year campaign and a six-year term. He said ultimately he feels he has more to accomplish.
“I’m a servant. I love Virginia. I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’ve got a whole lot more I want do,” Kaine said after meeting with about a dozen young advocates, state employees and political staffers at a roundtable in Richmond, his longtime home.
Speaking with his wife, Anne Holton, by his side, Kaine said President Joe Biden did not personally press him to seek a third term, but other Senate Democratic colleagues had encouraged him to run.
A Kaine retirement would have been a blow to Democrats politically and practically in a swing state that is prized by both parties. A former Virginia governor and lieutenant governor, Kaine will enter the race as the early favorite in a must-hold seat for Democrats facing a tough Senate map in 2024.
While Virginia has grown increasingly more liberal over the last decade, Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the 2021 governor’s race, part of a slate of Republican statewide candidates elected that year.
Ahead of 2024, Kaine said he’s preparing for a tough race and considers Virginia a battleground, “maybe a little bit on the blue side.”
“Look, the success of Gov. Younkin and the statewide ticket in ’21 shows you that, hey, Virginians will vote for Republicans in statewide elections,” he said. “Nobody can take that for granted.”
Virginia Democrats and many of Kaine’s Democratic Senate colleagues cheered his announcement. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Kaine has “has fought tirelessly for his home state and for working families and I’m confident his best years are yet to come.”
Maggie Abboud, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement that Virginians have shown they're willing to “vote Republican with the right candidate and the right political environment.”
“We’re going to keep a close eye on Virginia and focus on recruiting a strong candidate who can raise the resources necessary to compete," Abboud said.
At least two Virginia Republicans have signaled interest in the contest or committed to a run.
Eddie Garcia, a northern Virginia military veteran, recently announced his candidacy. And on Friday, Tim Saler, an adviser to former congressional candidate Hung Cao, said in an emailed statement that Cao was humbled by the “many Virginians who have encouraged him to consider a run.”
Cao, a retired Navy captain and Vietnamese immigrant, ran a spirited but unsuccessful race against Rep. Jennifer Wexton last year in a blue-leaning northern Virginia district.
Speculation had swirled about Kaine’s future after he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch earlier this month that he hadn’t arrived at a decision about whether to run again. Kaine said he had arrived at a sense of his path forward by last week but kept it closely held, telling three staffers only two days ago and the rest at 9 p.m. Thursday night.
Kaine, who is approaching three decades spent in public office, is best known nationally as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election, a race they lost to Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
He got his start in public office on the Richmond City Council in the 1990s. He served four terms, including two as mayor.
He went on to be elected lieutenant governor and then governor, serving from 2006 to 2010. Virginia uniquely limits its chief executives to one term.
Kaine was first elected to the Senate in 2012, defeating Republican George Allen after a bitter and expensive race. His 2018 contest against far right-wing GOP nominee Corey Stewart was far less competitive; Kaine won by 16 percentage points.
Kaine is seen as a passionate yet pragmatic senator and is known as a serious policymaker and eager partner on legislation.
After his high-profile turn on the 2016 Democratic presidential ticket, he returned to work in the Senate, often showing up in dark jeans during the coronavirus pandemic when an air of informality swept through the Capitol.
His own bout with the coronavirus led to what he has described as “mild long COVID symptoms,” as he pushes for funding toward research and care for those with the disease.
As a senator, Kaine has fought automatic federal budget cuts, worked to reduce unemployment among veterans and sought federal recognition for Virginia’s Native American tribes. He recently pressed for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
He said he hopes to find progress on education and workforce issues, immigration, mental health care, and combatting opioid addiction and overdoses if voters choose next year to send him back to Washington.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report from Washington.