FAITH INDEED….The post-mortems of yesterday’s elections will continue, but already one of the conclusions forming about Tim Kaine’s victory in Virginia is that it shows how a religious Democrat can neutralize the recent Republican advantage on cultural issues and character.

Kaine talked about his faith consistently, starting from the very beginning of his campaign. He didn’t throw it out as an honor badge for which he should get instant credit, but explained how his work as a Catholic missionary in Central America formed his commitment to public service. And although Kaine relied on his Catholicism to explain his personal opposition to both abortion and the death penalty, his insistence that as governor he should not impose his religious beliefs on others by blocking either one was an argument voters–if not pundits–understood and supported.

For those who say this is just a cute way to have it both ways, consider this: That might be true if Kaine just wanted to cultivate support with social conservatives while reassuring pro-choice voters that nothing would really change. But opposition to capital punishment isn’t terribly popular in Virginia. If he’s going to go ahead and allow executions to take place, he could have just shut up and kept his personal feelings quiet. Instead, Kaine chose to take an unpopular stand and explain his decision to voters.

I want to be very clear: I don’t think Kaine won because of his faith. But he was able to use it to neutralize attacks that too often do in Democrats running in culturally conservative spots. That means he got to compete on actual issues–whether immigration or education or sprawl or health care. And that’s good news for Democrats.

Amy Sullivan

Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.