Kaine said President-elect Barack Obama made a strong push just before Christmas for him to take the job even though Kaine had ruled out a role in the Obama administration until he completed the last year of his four-year term as governor. Obama agreed to let Kaine serve in the DNC post part time for the first year, according to the governor.
"As America found out on Nov. 4, he's a pretty persuasive guy," Kaine said at a news conference.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean plans to step down Jan. 21, the day after Obama's inauguration. Kaine said he will take no pay for the job until he leaves office next January. The state constitution prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms.
Kaine said he will do the DNC job on personal time, evenings and weekends, and take almost no role through Feb. 28, after an already contentious fight with Republicans in the state Legislature over a crippling fiscal shortfall.
Kaine said he could do most of his oversight and supervision work remotely from Richmond and let the party's staff handle day-to-day operations. Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, who ran Obama's successful campaign battleground state strategy, will handle that role as executive director.
"I think it will be an electronic gig anyway, using e-mail and phone and others," he said.
Kaine said he and Obama had discussed conditions for his accepting the job through late December.
"The president-elect and I at the appropriate time will share some more details about this, but I know what my first priority has to be and I've made that plain to (Obama), and not only does he get it, he wants me to do that," Kaine said.
In February 2007 Kaine became the first governor outside Obama's home state of Illinois to endorse his presidential bid. He campaigned vigorously for Obama nationally and helped Obama become the first Democrat in 44 years to win Virginia in a presidential race.
Kaine was among the finalists for Obama's running mate before he settled on Delaware Sen. Joe Biden. After the election, Kaine said he had made it clear to Obama that he was not interested in other posts, calling them not compatible with his role as governor.
Republicans were dubious of Kaine's claim that he would not be distracted or absent.
"We don't need a part-time governor right now, we need a full-time governor. This is the most serious economic problem we've had since the Great Depression," said Republican House Speaker Bill Howell.
"He's become what he always has been, which is a partisan Democratic hack," said Christopher J. LaCivita, a national GOP strategist who in 2004 engineered the pro-Bush group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Eight years ago, Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore tried to juggle being governor with Republican national chairman. That year, Virginia slid into a fiscal ditch, and a political standoff left the Legislature unable for the first time to reconcile the state budget. The GOP lost that year's gubernatorial election, and Gilmore was out at the RNC after less than a year.
And because Virginia holds one of only two governor's races this year — the other is in New Jersey — the election in Kaine's home state has the stage to itself as the first referendum on the new president and his party.
"Now that he's the partisan-in-chief, he assumes a much greater risk," said Bob Holsworth, a retired Virginia Commonwealth University political science professor who's now a partner in Decision Research, a Richmond-based public policy research and consulting firm.
"This race has now become more nationalized than any gubernatorial race in Virginia in recent memory," Holsworth said.