Perhaps Barack Obama meant it as a consolation prize. After passing over Tim Kaine for his running mate in favor of Joe Biden, Obama selected the Virginia Governor to succeed Howard Dean as the next chair of the DNC. Unless Kaine decides to resign as governor, that means that the Democrats will temporarily return to the figurehead model for leadership, which Andrew Malcolm explains:
Now, just two weeks before his inauguration, comes word from Democratic sources that President-elect Barack Obama later this week will name Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as part-time chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
The appointment will reportedly come with the understanding that next year, when Kaine loses his governor’s job due to the state’s one-term limit, facing unemployment, he will become the full-time face of the DNC, which has a dual responsibility of frequent partisan attack dog in the media and prolific national party fundraiser.
The Democrats may not need a wall-to-wall chair at the moment, having completed a highly successful national campaign, but they will probably need one sooner than 2010. George Bush managed to keep his first mid-term election from following the historical pattern of loss to the party in power, but he had 9/11 the year before. Obama will need help from the DNC in order to compete in 2010, especially since he seemed very disinclined to campaign in the runoff elections following his November win. He doesn’t appear to have the Bush’s desire to be a party leader and President simultaneously, which is typical of American presidents, but leaves the DNC rudderless for at least a year.
Beyond that, why Kaine? He had been picked as an up-and-comer when he first won in Virginia, but the party cooled on him somewhat after a stiff, unimpressive performance in a State of the Union response shortly afterward. Unlike Dean, Kaine has never run a national campaign and has no particular experience as a talking-head show regular. Dean proved his organizational skills and his forward thinking in his presidential primary run, as well as his expertise in communications. Kaine has done little in that regard, and unless it’s the best-kept secret in Virginia, little in national fundraising as well.
Kaine’s selection suggests that someone else will run the DNC in Kaine’s stead, perhaps even after Kaine takes the reins. I’d bet that Kaine takes a lot of orders from David Axelrod between now and 2010. That dynamic will be interesting, as the Democrats spent the last eight years demonizing Karl Rove for his political work during the Bush administration. Will they feel just as outraged when one of their own does the same thing? Don’t hold your breath.