He said he’d been grappling with the decision but finds it “energizing” to travel the state and serve its people. Even those who don’t vote for him, he said, tell him “ ‘preciate ya.” Kaine added that the Senate is frustrating, but they do get some things done.
“Man, I’ve got more I wanna do,” he said.
Kaine will be seeking reelection under a decidedly different environment than in his last race, when a Democrat was in the executive mansion and his opponent, Corey Stewart, turned off moderate Virginians with hard-right positions and staunch support for Confederate statues. Kaine won by 16 points. He won by 6 in 2012 against former Virginia governor and senator George Allen.
Though Kaine is still considered well-positioned to keep his seat, Republicans have been energized by Youngkin’s victory in 2021 over former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) by about 2 percentage points, and have been motivated to keep the momentum going.
Whether the governor could be a contender for the seat himself remains an open question; Virginia governors cannot seek consecutive terms. Youngkin’s ambitions have been under a microscope, as the governor has launched two political-action committees, met with megadonors and crisscrossed the state stumping for GOP gubernatorial candidates during the midterms. Youngkin has frequently deflected suggestions he is eyeing a White House bid — but others haven’t ruled out a Senate run.
A September University of Mary Washington Poll tested a Youngkin Senate candidacy in a hypothetical matchup against Kaine, finding support for them was close among Virginia voting-age adults.
In just 10 years, Kaine has developed a reputation as an honest broker with many Republicans — a policy wonk who more often strikes an optimistic note about bipartisan get-alongs, and who has publicly described a personal mission not to grow cynical about dysfunction in Congress. He’s been at the negotiating table on some of the most consequential legislation, sometimes working with bipartisan rump “gangs” on legislation not initially approved of by Senate leaders.
That reputation has put him at the forefront of more challenging assignments in the face of the Senate filibuster: He’s worked with fellow Catholic Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on protecting abortion rights, despite his personal opposition to abortion, and he helped lead the charge on Democrats’ major voting rights legislation despite not serving on the relevant committees, saying he hoped to “change the trajectory” of his Senate seat previously occupied by segregationists.
A fluent Spanish-speaker who spent time with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, Kaine has also prioritized immigration reform, making history in 2013 as the first senator to deliver a speech entirely in Spanish on the Senate floor.
He sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he has relentlessly sought to rewrite the war resolutions used to start the Afghanistan and Iraq wars two decades ago.
Kaine has long been a political heavyweight in Virginia and beyond. He served as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in her 2016 presidential campaign, a job Barack Obama first vetted him for in 2008 before asking him to serve as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Kaine, who first rose to prominence in the state as a civil rights lawyer, began his political career in Richmond, first as a city council member, then mayor, climbing to become governor of Virginia. His steady but emotional leadership in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech mass shooting garnered broad recognition, an experience he has said has informed his push to expand gun restrictions during his tenure in the Senate.
Kaine, who also served as Virginia’s lieutenant governor under fellow Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), holds a degree from Harvard Law School, where he met his wife, Anne Holton, the former Virginia secretary of education.
Kaine has been public about the effects he’s experienced from long covid, and last year sponsored legislation aimed at funding research on the condition. He described the symptoms as a persistent tingling sensation — as if “all my nerves have had like five cups of coffee,” as he described the feeling last year — but has stressed the symptoms were not debilitating and did not prevent him from doing his work.
This story is developing and will be updated.
Paul Kane, Amy Gardner and Scott Clement contributed to this report.