Among the first things the Democrat mentioned Wednesday was advocating to avoid the “catastrophic consequences” of sequestration cuts poised to go into effect a the end of the year. The cuts would affect everything from education to defense spending – a large industry in Virginia.
Kaine spoke at a news conference at his campaign headquarters the day after beating Republican George Allen for the open Senate seat by a 52 to 48 margin.
He committed to ensuring small businesses are treated fairly though tax policies and promised to pursue “strategies to accelerate growth of jobs and the economy.”
But what Kaine emphasized the most was his desire to work across the aisle, believing the current gridlock in Washington would be the next Congress’s most important barrier to overcome.
Campaigning as a fiscally conservative candidate willing to work with Republicans ultimately gave Kaine a nearly 4 percent margin of victory on Tuesday - a stronger lead in Virginia than President Barack Obama had in the state. A former governor, Kaine chaired the Democratic National Committee at Obama’s request.
“There were some Romney-Kaine voters,” Kaine said. “Forty percent of Virginians self-describe as independents, so they split tickets. And I suspect that we picked up more of the ticket-splitters than my opponent.”
Like the 112th Congress, the Senate in the 113th Congress will be Democratic and the House will be Republican.
Kaine, who pegged himself as an optimist, interpreted Tuesday’s results as a request from a nation that is looking for compromise.
“They’re saying, ‘Look, both parties are responsible for where we are today,’” Kaine said. “They are telling us over and over again that they want us to work together.”
To help foster compromise, Kaine plans to spend the next few months reaching out to other freshmen senators and building a partnership with at least one freshman Republican senator. He has also spoken with Republican and Democratic senators.
As far as committee assignments, Kaine said he has his eye on the health and education committee as well as the armed services committee, on which which former Virginia Sen. John Warner, R, and retiring Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, D, served.
Part of looking forward also required Kaine to look back to Election Day and the long lines in which some Virginia voters waited for hours. Kaine was no exception – after arriving to his polling place early he waited in line half and hour. He said the lines were not “unmanageable,” but the process needs to be made “simpler and straightforward.”
“As a state we need to embrace more robust early voting,” he said.
Virginia has some of the most restrictive early voting policies.
After Virginians voted for Obama in the past two elections and chose two Democratic senators since 2007, Kaine said the state should now be considered purple. Republicans fill all three top statewide offices – governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Given the attention swing states in a presidential election receive, he’s more than happy for it to stay that way.
“We’re important enough for both parties to come and make their case to us,” he said.
Reach reporter Emily Wilkins at email@example.com or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.
Jory Heckman also contributed to this story.