WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama spoke by phone Wednesday with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine about the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb in Virginia, officials said.
The conversation came as Democrats are urging the former Virginia governor to launch a campaign. It was confirmed by a White House official and a Democratic Party official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Separate from the call, several Democratic officials said Wednesday Kaine is reconsidering his initial reluctance to run and wants more time to think about it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because Kaine has not made a decision.
"I think his view is it's on the table right now and that he owes it to himself and to Virginia and the party to give it some thought," said one Democratic strategist familiar with Kaine's thinking. "Clearly he's thinking about it and he's not a definitive no, or this would have been done already."
Democrats see Virginia as a pivotal state in the 2012 election. Obama won it in 2008, and having a solid Senate candidate on the ballot next year would boost his chances of repeating. The race also could help determine control of the Senate, where Democrats hold a 53-47 majority.
Party leaders consider Kaine their best candidate after Webb announced this month that he's retiring after one term.
The White House declined to say whether Obama pressed Kaine to run. The two are close. At Obama's request, Kaine agreed in 2009 to moonlight as DNC chairman in his final year as governor, a move that drew some criticism at home.
Before Webb's retirement announcement, Kaine said repeatedly he had no interest in running, but party leaders say that may have been in deference to Webb.
"I have reason to believe he's reconsidering," a well-connected Virginia Democrat who favors his candidacy said Wednesday.
Democrats must defend 23 Senate seats next year, including two held by independents. Many are in swing states such as Virginia where Republicans hope to mount strong challenges. By contrast, only 10 GOP-held seats will be on the ballot.
Virginia Republican George Allen, a former senator and governor, is again seeking the GOP nomination, along with tea party activist Jamie Radtke.
Kaine comfortably won the 2005 gubernatorial race after four years as lieutenant governor to popular Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner, now Virginia's junior U.S. senator.
He presided over Democratic gains during the first three years of the single four-year term to which Virginia uniquely limits its governors. He helped Webb oust Allen in 2006 and bankroll and campaign for a Democratic takeover of the state Senate in 2007 and was influential in 2008 making Obama the first Democrat since 1964 to carry Virginia in a presidential race.
But in 2009, Kaine could not deliver a Democratic successor as Virginia Republicans ended an eight-year losing skid with sweeping victories for all three statewide offices. And last year, the GOP won in another romp, negating the three U.S. House seats that Virginia Democrats captured in 2008.
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