Why Tim Kaine Won


In the period following Virginia’s recent election for governor, there have been a number of different explanations offered for why Democrat Tim Kaine won. Kaine’s win was the result of a carefully designed campaign conducted over an 18-month period, a campaign that used its polling data and sophisticated analysis to carefully construct a messaging strategy for two main purposes: (1) emphasize Kaine’s inherent personal honesty and integrity, and his priorities, and (2) target groups of voters who we knew would be receptive to Kaine. In the end, Kaine achieved a 5.7-percentage-point margin—a margin larger than that of any other Democrat elected governor in the past 20 years (but just 0.6 higher than Governor Warner’s margin in 2001).

This case study outlines the key elements of this strategy.

The campaign:

• Sought out opportunities for voters to see Kaine—from interviews, to debates, and in the advertising. We believed Tim Kaine’s personal characteristics were our greatest asset and that Republican nominee Jerry Kilgore perhaps had a weakness in this area.

• Focused on Virginia’s suburbs instead of trying to replicate Governor Warner’s 2001 rural-focused strategy.

• Built a case for continuity by showing that Virginia’s standing as the best-managed state in the nation was the product of a set of policies and a leadership style that Governor Warner had offered, that Kaine supported and would continue, and that Kilgore had opposed.

• Developed a counter to expected attacks on Kaine’s position on capital punishment. Our counter-strategy was prepared 10 months before the election. While developing this strategy we realized we could turn a negative into a positive by using this as an opportunity to show Kaine’s honesty and integrity.

• Defused the issue of taxes. Kaine supported a major tax increase as part of the bipartisan budget agreement passed in 2004. (This plan also included significant tax cuts, but Kilgore never referred to those.) Kaine defused the issue of taxes through a combination of highlighting his tax-cutting record as mayor of Richmond, his plan to provide tax relief for homeowners and his emphasis on accountability for how transportation funds are spent. 

These were five strategic dynamics we had to address. As the campaign evolved, we used polling and focus groups to understand how to achieve them but, as a group, we were nimble enough to adapt and make the best of strategic opportunities that were presented to us.
— Pete Brodnitz
Jennifer Bethel