Kaine Picks Moments to Part With Obama

It has, and undoubtedly will continue to be, one of the prevailing themes of the 2012 campaign for Virginia Senate. How close is Tim Kaine to President Barack Obama? The obvious answer is very close. Each time the president is forced to confront a difficult decision, Kaine is also forced to give his take.

Quietly, Kaine has picked opportunities to build some space between he and Obama. Most of those occasions are never clear-cut, and regularly couched in an overriding appreciation of the president as a friend and as a leader. But make no mistake, Kaine is working to build his own image in a race where the president’s perception could have an overwhelming impact on the race for Senate.

The latest came in an interview with public radio station WRHV in Hampton Roads. Kaine was asked by the host Cathy Lewis what he thought of the confrontation between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church over mandatory coverage for contraception by intuitions operated by the Church. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services has determined that facilities such as Catholic hospitals must provide the coverage for free, despite the Church’s moral opposition to contraception. Kaine said he thought the requirement went a bit too far.

“This is something that’s been talked about a lot today and I have definitely expressed my grave concerns to the White House about that,” Kaine said. ”I support the contraception mandate but there should be a religious employer exemption that is broader than the one they proposed.”

The Washington Post’s Ben Pershing picked up the conversation and his blog post quickly spread like wildfire to national political journalists who are aware of the Kaine-Obama connection and it’s implication on the Virginia Senate Race.

Kaine’s campaign was quick to damper down some of the talk. They made sure to point out that former Virginia governor still believes the overall contraception mandate makes sense, but just believes the exemption should extend further than what HHS has dictated.

This back and forth is pretty typical of a "Kaine parts with Obama" moment. The headline comes out “Kaine parts with Obama.” The tweets and blog posts follow and then the Kaine team does a bit of work to temper the idea that their candidate has strayed too far from the president, but make clear exactly where the two differ.

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Case in point. During an interview with me on First at 4 back in September, Kaine split with the president on raising the tax rate on capital gains and he said he supported a higher sunset rate for the Bush tax cuts. Just like the contraception issue, Kaine supports the president’s broad policy, but finds subtle differences where he can build some space.

But that is not all.

Kaine called on the Obama administration to continue their study of the Keystone XL pipeline, instead of turning the project down. He believed the president should have gone to the Congress before taking any military action in Libya, and he was disappointed when the Obama administration passed by Virginia as a potential site to explore off shore drilling.

It will be impossible for Kaine to completely escape the specter of Obama and he knows it. He once told me that when it comes to he and the president, “I’ve got my own views on some things and he and I some times have some pleasant and some times spirited disagreement on this or that. But on most issues we see things the same way.” That is why the Kaine team welcomes polls like today’s that shows Obama (and them) with a slight lead in Virginia.

But while Kaine wiggles an every so small space between he and Obama, George Allen will continue to pound home his belief that his fellow former governor will be nothing more than a rubber stamp for a Obama agenda.

National republicans have already pounced on Kaine’s statements on the contraception debate, tying it to his overall strong support for the health care reform law.

“If Tim Kaine is truly concerned with government overreach today,” asked Brian Walsh of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, "why didn’t he listen to the countless Virginians and Americans across the country who expressed these same concerns BEFORE he joined with President Obama to help ram ObamaCare through the Congress?”

So between now and Election Day, expect every moment of new difference between Kaine and Obama to become big news stories. No matter how small the issue may be.

More From NBC12's Ryan Nobles:

Ryan Nobles, an anchor at NBC12 in Richmond, Va., moderates the Decision Virginia blog. Nobles has been named one of America’s “Best State-Based Political Reporters” by the Washington Post. Politico recognized him as one of the “50 to Watch” political players in the U.S. You can read more from his blog by clicking here.

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