Democrats to look hard for candidates with clean pasts
Party stung by Virginia scandals
When Sen. Tim Kaine was vetted in 2016 to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, the Virginia Democrat was prodded about everything from his financial dealings to the health of his ticker.
But Mr. Kaine wasn’t specifically asked whether he ever gallivanted around in blackface.
“I was asked virtually everything you might imagine, but I was not asked that,” Mr. Kaine told The Washington Times on Thursday. “I have been asked that in the last few days, and the answer is ‘no.’”
Expect that to change as the party looks for candidates for 2020 and beyond and tries to avoid a repeat of the mess in Virginia, where the top three elected leaders — all Democrats — have been stung by racist and rape allegations.
Bret Niles, chairman of the Linn County Iowa Democrats, said he wouldn’t be surprised if candidates visiting the early primary states don’t get asked to weigh in.
As for the candidates themselves, he said he hoped they would be forthcoming on their own and wouldn’t need a scandal to make them admit to any politically damaging shortcomings.
“I think there are a lot people wanting to make sure we have a presidential nominee with a clean slate, or nothing in their closets, that would impact the campaign or their term in office,” he said. “However, it’s hard to envision any of the current candidates with anything similar to what all came out on Trump, even during the campaign.”
Virginia Democrats may have felt the same about their governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, the first two elected and the latter re-elected in a sweep of the state’s top offices in 2017.
Gov. Ralph Northam has had to answer for a photo of someone in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume that appeared on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. He denied he was in the photo but admitted to darkening his face at a different time to appear black for a dance contest.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would take over should Mr. Northam resign, was then publicly accused of raping a woman when they were both attending the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004.
Attorney General Mark Herring, who had called on Mr. Northam to resign after the blackface photo emerged, admitted this week to his own blackface incident in 1980.
The chaos has garnered around-theclock cable news coverage and has spilled over to Capitol Hill, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, maintained Thursday that it doesn’t taint the party’s prospects at the national level.
“No, it does not,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters.
She said Virginia “will resolve” its own issues and that it was “sad” that the party was suffering because it had “some very talented leaders.” She did not say who she meant.
But Democrats said they do expect 2020 candidates will be asked to weigh in.
Many in the field have called for Mr. Northam to step down.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York on Thursday became the first major contenders in the field to say Mr. Fairfax’s accuser is credible and to call for her allegations against the lieutenant governor to be investigated.
Mr. Niles said he wouldn’t be surprised if Ms. Harris or Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey is asked about the mess in Virginia when they travel to Iowa this weekend.
He said Democrats still feel burned by John Edwards, who persuaded voters during his 2008 presidential bid not to believe reports from the National Enquirer that he had a love child with a mistress. The reports proved to be true.
Kathleen Sullivan, a member of the Democratic National Committee from New Hampshire, said the stakes in 2020 are so high that it is incumbent upon Democrats to do everything in their power to put forward a scandal-free presidential nominee.
“I do think that Democratic voters will be more attuned to issues of race, gender, harassment, but not just because of Virginia, but also because of Donald Trump, [Steve]
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who was Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, said he was vetted with multiple questions, but was never asked whether he ever appeared in blackface. That question likely to be asked of other candidates.