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Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine answers questions at the Virginia NAACP's 77th annual convention Friday night in Fredericksburg.
Senate candidate Tim Kaine claps along with the Voices
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine talked up bipartisanship at a state NAACP forum in Fredericksburg on Friday night, saying it's the only thing that could alleviate gridlock and dysfunction in the Senate.
Kaine and rival Republican George Allen were both invited to the NAACP's Senate forum. Allen didn't attend--an empty chair was left on stage for him--but he is scheduled to speak at the group's banquet tonight.
Kaine said he worked with former President George W. Bush, he worked with a Republican House of Delegates as governor, and his goal in the U.S. Senate is to work with members of the other party to tone down the partisanship.
Figuring out how he could work in a body as "dysfunctional" as the U.S. Congress was "the single hardest thing to grapple with when I decided to run," Kaine said.
Moderator Linda Thomas told Kaine that Republican candidates often don't bother to court black voters, while Democratic candidates take black votes for granted. Why, she asked, shouldn't black voters feel Kaine is taking them for granted?
"I would put on the table 17 years as a civil rights lawyer," Kaine said.
He said he also had, as governor, the first African-American chief of staff in the governor's office, sent his children to Richmond public schools, which have a large minority population, and chose to attend a predominantly African-American church after reading a quote in which Martin Luther King Jr. said the most segregated hour of the week in America was the church hour on Sunday morning.
"If we don't make an effort, we can too easily fall into the patterns of self-segregation," Kaine said.
Thomas also asked why he thinks his immigration proposal--to encourage undocumented immigrants to come forward, pay a penalty and get on track for a green card--would work any better than Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" proposal.
Kaine said he thinks his plan is more realistic.
"It's different because there's something positive in it for those who step forward," Kaine said.
His plan would call on illegal immigrants to pay a "significant penalty" in cash, over three years, to get on track toward legality. That, he said, would let them work legally and not fear that immigration officials could show up at their door.
"So there's a real upside to moving forward, because you would be able to move out of the shadows," Kaine said.
Kaine's talk was before a sympathetic crowd, who clapped when he mentioned his friendship with President Barack Obama and his disdain for allusions from Allen in this campaign that his support for Obama makes him un-Virginian.
"It is pro-Virginian to be pro-president, whoever that president is," Kaine said.
Kaine told reporters after the forum that a visit to the NAACP's meeting is "a must."
"It's just basic respect," he said. "We're all Virginians and it's important to reach out to Virginians."
The elections--for Senate, president and Congress--are just a week and a half away.
Kaine said he feels positive about Obama's chances in Virginia, a swing state.
But the next few days are critical, he said, both in his race and in the presidential race, both of which are tight in Virginia, according to polls.
Campaigns will focus on get-out-the-vote efforts, he said, targeting the 4 or 5 percent of voters who are still undecided.
He said he thinks an undecided voter isn't voting by party and won't be swayed by negative ads.
Instead, Kaine said, he thinks those voters are waiting to hear something positive on an issue that resonates with them.
He hopes they'll hear what they need from his message of bipartisanship.
"The undecided voters are really wrestling with who can break the gridlock," Kaine said.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028