RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Famously known for being down to earth, Tim Kaine feels right at home at Kitchen 64, a quaint Richmond restaurant, where it’s easy to talk about politics and people.
“We live three blocks from here,” Kaine said as he chatted with a patron. “This is one of our favorite places.”
In just over a decade, Tim Kaine has risen from mayor of Richmond, to a vice-presidential contender and national leader in the Democratic party.
Now the former Governor hopes to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Kaine said he enjoys politics because it allows him to serve others, just as his devout Catholic upbringing has always taught him.
“I always try to teach my own kids that richness in life is fundamentally about relationships and experiences and a sense of purpose,” Kaine said.
Kaine grew up in Kansas City where he said a job in his father’s iron working shop helped instill him with a good work ethic and gave him the skills to later work as a missionary in Honduras.
It was later, at Harvard Law School, that Kaine met his future wife, Anne Holton. Holton is the daughter of former Virginia Governor Linwood Holton.
A life in politics did not interest Kaine until a few years after he and Anne settled in Richmond with his young family and began practicing law, which included civil rights work.
In 1998, Kaine decided he could have a bigger impact on policy if he ran for Richmond City Council.
“In a city that’s very diverse, I thought the council was too racially divided,” Kaine said.
As Mayor of Richmond, Kaine was credited for helping bridge the gap between races. During his tenure, the first schools in a generation were built, the violent crime rate dropped and, for the first time, Richmond made Forbes Magazine’s Top 10 Cities in America.
Kaine’s rising popularity in Richmond helped launch him into state politics. Kaine was elected as Virginia’s Lt. Governor in 2002 and became Virginia’s 70th Governor in 2006.
But it would prove to be a challenging time.
“I was the Governor in the deepest national recession since the 1930′s,” Kaine said. “Nobody who’s a living governor now had to deal with the size of the economic challenge.”
Working with a Republican dominated General Assembly, Kaine was able to find some common ground. While making deep cuts to the budget, he reached an agreement for a major increase in transportation funding.
However, Kaine came under heavy fire later as governor for closing several rest stops in an attempt to get more money for transportation.
Pundits also credit Kaine with pushing through millions of dollars in funding for pre-K education and legislation that banned smoking in Virginia restaurants.
In 2006, Kaine gained national attention by delivering the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union Address.
A year later, Kaine was praised for his compassion and leadership in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy.
However, it was Kaine’s early endorsement of Barack Obama for President that elevated Kaine’s national profile.
Kaine was selected as one of three potential running mates and later appointed Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“I’m proud to be a Democrat,” said Kaine.
Republicans have been quick to paint Kaine as a left-leaning liberal with an agenda that mirrors the President’s beliefs.
Kaine said leading is all about finding balance. As mayor and Governor, Kaine said he was always able to find common ground by listening to others and striking a balance that’s fair.
Kaine said he’s thrilled to be a part of such a pivotal election that’s being closely watched across the nation.
While Kaine said Richmond will always be home, he hopes to continue his legacy in Washington.