What would VP Kaine mean for VA? Chaos (and fun)

Barring a disaster, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President this fall. And so media attention is turning to a favorite pundit pastime: predicting who will end up on the ticket as the Vice Presidential candidate. (This kind of thinking will only be further fueled by Ted Cruz's bold -- desperate? -- attempt this week to shake up the Republican race by naming Carly Fiorina his own VP nod.)

Among the Democratic choices spotlighted in a recent New York Times article were Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. The idea is to select a Virginian to help shore up Democratic support in an important battleground state.

Kaine particularly has been the center of Veep speculation. He was apparently on Obama's shortlist back in 2008, and has been downplaying rumors about this for months even as he carves out a national profile on foreign policy issues.

But while national and local pundits alike are engaged in frenzied speculation, we here in Virginia might ask: what if Kaine DOES end up on the Democratic ticket? And what if the Democrats win? What does all that mean not for the national ticket, but Virginia politics?

Lowell Feld over at Blue Virginia, engaging in some speculation of his own, has a helpful accounting of the Code of Virginia's rules for what would happen to Kaine's Senate seat if he vacated it. We would presumably see these events:

  1. Upon winning in November, Kaine would immediately resign from the Senate. (It's possible he could resign earlier, but in the middle of his term, there's no reason why he would have to.)
  2. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe would be able to appoint someone to fill the Senate seat.
  3. There would be a special election in November 2017 to select whoever would serve out the rest of Kaine's term.
  4. However, that term is up a year later, so there would be SECOND election in November 2018 for a full, six-year term.

Whoever McAuliffe selected would need to not only win over Virginia voters in a matter of months, but then would need to immediately prepare for not one, but TWO elections in subsequent years. The national Democratic Party, desperate to win back control of Congress (or maintain control if things go well for them in 2016) would surely pressure the Governor to find a safe bet to hold the seat - presumably a politician with some name recognition who has already won important elections in Virginia. But who? And who on the GOP side would run against the Governor's selection in 2017/2018?

In Virginia, typically former Governors would be first in line. Since we are the only state that limits governors to one term at a time, we usually have loads of them lying around. (It's no surprise that both U.S. Senators are former Governors.) But the bench is getting thin. George Allen has been out of office for a decade; Jim Gilmore ran a campaign for President that no one noticed; and Bob McDonnell is waiting to hear from the Supreme Court where he'll be living for the next two years. (One commenter at Blue Virginia suggested McAuliffe might resign and essentially appoint himself. I wouldn't put it past him, but he remains a safe bet for a job in a Clinton Administration.)

It's possible that members of Congress, having won elections in large districts, could be on the Governor's shortlist. The Democrats could look to popular incumbents like Newport News' Bobby Scott. But the national Democratic Party might be wary about opening House seats up to challenge, especially after this year's redistricting issues made some Virginia districts more competitive.

In any case, if the Democrats are looking for someone who can win a statewide election, then the hopefuls for governor are an attractive option. Lt. Governor Ralph Northram is the Democrats' likely nominee in next year's gubernatorial race, with Attorney General Mark Herring next in line after him. Both have already won elections in the state - what if McAuliffe tapped one or the other? On the GOP side, one of the big three -- Congressman Rob Wittman, Warner's last challenger Ed Gillespie, and Tea Party darling Ken Cuccinelli -- would certainly consider the Senate instead of the Governor's office as their next landing spot. Any of these decisions could upend the pecking order in Virginia state politics.

And each possible choice sets off a chain reaction. What if McAuliffe names a Congressman to the Senate? State representatives line up to go to Washington, setting off a race to replace THEIR seats in the General Assembly. We'll see this dynamic in VA's 4th Congressional district if Senator Don McEachin wins the seat; who replaces him in the State Senate? Who rises up the Democratic Party's seniority ranks? And with TWO elections coming in 2017 and 2018, the Senate seat will remain an ongoing source of possible candidates and intrigue.

It may not be the best thing for the Clinton campaign to name Kaine for Vice President; some suggest she should select a woman, or build a unity ticket with Bernie Sanders. But if she does tap Kaine, and they win, another clear winner will be VA political junkies. We'll be watching the dominoes fall for years.