By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Barack Obama's decision to tap Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to be the next Democratic National Committee chairman is a sign that the party will very likely continue and perhaps expand on the unprecedented faith outreach initiatives that Howard Dean launched during his tenure as chair.
Kaine's 2005 run for governor was one of the few statewide races in the year following the Democrats' landslide defeat among so-called values voters, and his bid became a test case for many of the faith-based tactics that have now become commonplace among Democrats.
For instance, some of the first ads that Kaine—a Catholic who spent nine months as a missionary in Honduras—ran in 2005 were on Christian radio, a format that had been ignored by most Democratic candidates before that time. The Kaine campaign wanted to establish the candidate's Christian identity early, so that he could talk about his faith closer to Election Day without appearing opportunistic or disingenuous, a major fear of Democrats at the time.
Sure enough, when Kaine's Republican opponent attacked him for his opposition to the death penalty as Election Day closed in, Kaine invoked his Catholicism in explaining his position. In the process, he ripped a page from the GOP/Christian right playbook: implying he would not tolerate attacks on his faith and tying his position to the pro-life cause, saying, "My faith teaches life is sacred."
After Kaine won, the Democrats tapped him to give the party's response to George W. Bush's first State of the Union address after the Virginia election. The Old Dominion State governor opened with this line: "I worked as a missionary in Honduras when I was a young man, and I learned to measure my life by the difference I can make in someone else's life."
When word spread last summer that Kaine was on Barack Obama's shortlist for running mates, the governor went on the Charlie Rose Show and discussed his support for state-level abortion-rights restrictions, like parental consent laws, a "partial-birth" abortion ban, and requirements for abortion providers to furnish women with information about alternatives to abortion.
All of which suggests the Democratic National Committee's "Faith in Action" team, born under Howard Dean and growing to comprise nearly half a dozen staffers, may be about to get even bigger and more powerful.