Tim Kaine is stepping down as chairman of the Democratic National Committee to run for the Senate in Virginia, setting the stage for what could be the hottest and most pivotal Senate race of 2012. Virginia is a key presidential swing state, and the seat Kaine's seeking is currently held by a retiring Democrat, freshman Sen. Jim Webb. Kaine could give President Obama a boost if the former governor lures enough Democratic voters to the polls and beats former Republican Sen. George Allen. Can Kaine keep his state in the Democrats' column? (Watch a Tim Kaine campaign ad.)

Kaine is an instant contender: The common wisdom is that if any Democrat can keep Virginia blue in 2012, it's Kaine, says Jennifer Epstein at Politico. He and Obama will bolster each other, which is why the president "privately urged Kaine to take the plunge." Republicans will try to depict Kaine as Obama's "lapdog," but he can deflect the charges by focusing on his work as governor, not at the DNC.
"Tim Kaine announces he'll run for Senate

No, this is a gift to the GOP: With Kaine's legacy of "higher taxes" and "mismanagement," his candidacy is great news for conservatives, according to the Republican Party of Virginia. At the DNC, he was the No. 1 "cheerleader" for Obama's reckless spending, including health care reform and the economic stimulus package. Moderate Virginia voters won't forget his liberal record.
"Tim Kaine: By the numbers"

Forget the Right's rhetoric. This race is Kaine's to lose: "Don't be fooled by the bravado you may hear from Republicans," says Lee Hockstader at The Washington Post. Kaine is "quick-witted" and well-liked, "a formidable and energetic campaigner who’s never lost a bid for public office." The popular former governor became "the race's favorite" the moment he declared his candidacy.
"Tim Kaine, the man to beat in the 2012 Virginia Senate race"