The DNC chair

THE DNC CHAIR…. Howard Dean is leaving some very big shoes to fill at the Democratic National Committee, and now we know who’ll take the reins.

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will become chairman of the Democratic National Committee later this month, serving as the top political messenger for Barack Obama’s administration even while finishing his final year in the governor’s mansion, several sources said.

Kaine, 50, who emerged as a finalist for the job of Obama’s running mate last summer, will operate from Richmond in a part-time capacity until January 2010, when he will become the full-time DNC chairman. Kaine is constitutionally barred from running for reelection.

Obama campaigned for Kaine in 2005, and by all appearances, the two hit it off. Chris Cillizza noted several months ago that Kaine and Obama “are as close as two politicians can be,” and the two “formed an instant bond” thanks to all that they had in common — including both having roots in small-town Kansas. If Obama wanted a friend heading the DNC, he’ll have one.

So, is Kaine a good choice? At this point, it’s hard to say. The Virginia governor won’t be formally introduced until later in the week, and until then, we don’t have a sense of what the governor wants to do at the DNC, and what kind of leadership he’s prepared to offer.

What’s more, at least in 2009, Kaine won’t exactly be hands-on the party headquarters — he’ll remain governor, while Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, who “ran John Edwards’s campaign in Iowa and then moved to Obama’s campaign to oversee his efforts in battleground states,” will serve as the executive director and run the DNC on a day-to-day basis. Kaine may be a public spokesperson, and will probably help raise some money, but that’s about it.

But here’s the real angle to keep in mind: with a Democratic president, the DNC will be, for all intents and purposes, an extension of the White House political operation. Obama’s team will set the party agenda, and Kaine was probably selected because he’s a close Obama ally who’ll follow the president’s lead. Kaine isn’t nearly as progressive as most of the Democratic base would prefer for a chairman, but at the DNC, the governor won’t help set the agenda for the party.

I suspect the number one question Kaine will be asked is whether he supports the Dean-crafted 50-state strategy. It’s a good question, but the answer is more likely to come from Patrick Gaspard and David Axelrod.