ARLINGTON, Va. – Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, tapped to deliver the State of the Union response for Democrats, has sharp words for both parties in Washington: Stop being so partisan, negative and irrelevant. "There's a better way," he said Monday.
Less than three weeks after taking office, Kaine is a rising star inside his party because he succeeded last November where many other Democrats have failed -- in a Southern state and in the fast-growing exurbs.
"I want to contrast what I consider to be an administration that is super partisan and not really able to deliver results with a different model, a better way, which is what we've been doing in Virginia and other states," Kaine said, previewing his Tuesday night speech in an interview with The Associated Press.
"Results matter. Planning matters. Management matters, and you can make much more progress if you do it in a bipartisan way," he said.
That was a dig at the president, but Kaine said Democrats in Washington also could learn from the success achieved by him and 11 other Democratic governors who run states that Bush carried in 2004.
"I think we have to be much more about an optimistic and positive message," Kaine said of his fellow Democrats. "I think sometimes we perfect the criticism without a positive, forward-looking message."
"I think it's all about talking to people about the issues that really matter to them, which is what successful governors tend to do. They became successful in campaigns because they talk about real basic things and don't get off on insider issues and purely social causes -- the strength of the economy, the power of education, health care needs and health care solutions," said Kaine.
He ran as a moderate and promised better roads and tools to curb urban sprawl.
While his popular predecessor, Mark Warner, is a Democrat, too, Virginia is a Republican-leaning state that hasn't backed a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Bush won the state by about 8 percentage points in 2000 and 9 points in 2004.
What really caught the attention of Democratic Party leaders was Kaine's performance in exurban communities, the sprawling new suburbs filled with big-box stores and Republican-leaning families. Kaine defeated Republican Jerry Kilgore in Loudoun and Prince William counties outside Washington, both of which Bush won in 2004. Kaine fared better than 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in five other fast-growing Virginia counties won by Bush.
Kaine, the son-in-law of Virginia's first modern Republican governor, won despite his opposition to the death penalty in a state that has executed 94 inmates since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, second only to Texas's 356.
Republican Kilgore tried to play a law-and-order card when he ran an ad that said Kaine's opposition to the death penalty meant he would not have executed Adolf Hitler. Kaine pledged to enforce the death penalty despite his personal opposition, using Kilgore's attack to shine a spotlight on his own faith and values. He is Roman Catholic.
"I'm not apologizing for my religious beliefs to anybody," Kaine said throughout the campaign.
His first ad aired on a Christian radio station. The first TV ad he ran in the fall of 2005 highlighted his experience with Catholic missionaries.
Party leaders said Kaine's victory illustrated how candidates can share voters' values without abandoning party principles.
"Tim Kaine is a wonderful fresh face who speaks from the heart about his values," said Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean.
But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said it's Republicans who should take a lesson from the Virginian. "He is someone who embodies the leadership and accountability that's missing in Republican Washington," Reid said.
Kaine's speech, which advisers say will take less than 10 minutes, follows an address by Bush that also will include a call for bipartisanship. The president said Monday he will ask Congress to help him "elevate the tone here in Washington, D.C."
Kaine said he appreciates the assignment from Reid and other party leaders, even as he distances himself from Washington.
"I'm no shill or mouthpiece or posterboy for anybody," he said. "I'm going to do it in a way that I think it should be done."
Kaine said he has gotten plenty of advice from Washington. Some has been good. As for the rest: "I said, `No, thanks. I think I'll take it in another direction."'
After holding a Cabinet meeting at the White House Monday, President Bush gave several clues that his State of the Union address will hit on pressing international issues like nuclear pursuits in Iran and the election of the terror group Hamas to lead the Palestinian people.
During his Tuesday address, the president also will talk about health care, energy, education and the economy, with particular attention on the costs of energy and medical care for Americans. The speech comes less than a week before Bush sends his budget request for 2007 to Congress.
• Watch full coverage of President Bush's State of the Union address live on FOX News Channel at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday.
Bush met with his advisers Monday to discuss with them their roles in implementing the agenda he will be presenting before millions of Americans. The State of the Union address is the largest single audience for a presidential address each year.
“I'm looking forward to speaking to the country, we have a lot to be proud of, we have a lot of work to do,” Bush told reporters after the meeting. "I can't tell you how upbeat I am about our future so long as we're willing to lead. ... We recognize that we can't just sit back and hope for the best, we’ve got to lead."
On Tuesday, the president is also expected to address efforts to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program and recent elections for a Palestinian government led by Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror organization.
"The Hamas party has made it clear that they do not support the right of Israel," Bush said after meeting with his Cabinet. "And I have made it clear that so long as that's their policy, that we will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas."
Another trouble spot the president is likely to discuss is Iran, which is in full pursuit of nuclear technology. Talks between Tehran and European nations are at a standstill, and a senior British official at the talks reported Monday that Iran offered nothing new in its approach in the meeting, which was not a formal negotiating session.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — are now working together to refer Iran to the full Council. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was joining foreign ministers from the four other members and Germany in London Monday night.
"We're going to continue to work with our friends and allies to present a united front to the Iranians," Bush said. "And the message is: Give up your nuclear weapons ambitions. The good news is, most of the world recognizes that Iran being the nontransparent society that it is, a government that had violated IAEA rules, is one that cannot be trusted with technology that could enable it to develop a nuclear weapon."
The White House is in high gear putting last-minute touches on preparations for the address. Without applause, practice runs have taken about 36 minutes. The speech will likely extend to an hour as members of the joint session of Congress, the Supreme Court justices, the Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff applaud their favorite proposals and rhetorical flourishes.
But people who are hoping for lofty language will be disappointed by the policy laundry lists, said Michael Waldman, a veteran of four State of the Union addresses as former President Bill Clinton's chief speechwriter. "People who are looking for grand oratory in a speech like this should keep the remote handy," Waldman said.
Bush, who runs a tight ship at the White House, is known to have his speeches firmed up prior to events, unlike Clinton, who often made last-minute changes. About two dozen drafts have already been made.
"There is never any of that last-minute activity," said Matthew Scully, a Bush speechwriter from the 2000 election campaign until August 2004.
Bush advisers and administration officials have already seen several drafts of the speech and fact checkers are closely reviewing it.
The president is set to continue practicing the speech aloud on Monday and making last-minute changes. Once the president and his advisers feel comfortable with the version of the speech, a final practice will be held Monday night in the Family Theater.
The speech comes as several difficult issues for the president have been grabbing headlines lately, such as a lobbying scandal in Congress, a terrorism surveillance program at the National Security Agency and the ongoing war in Iraq.
“I'll do my best to elevate the tone here in Washington, D.C., so we can work together to achieve big things for the American people,” Bush said.
But Democrats are already attacking the president's expected talking points in speeches and commercials. They claim the Republican-led Congress permits a "culture of corruption."
"Democrats hear the American people, and we have answers, which are designed to meet the challenges of the present and the future," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the National Press Club last week.
House Democrats launched a television ad targeting the Bush administration's policies ahead of the president's address with excerpts from three previous addresses, asking, "What special interest will the Republican Congress rubber stamp this time?"
The speech draws many White House staff to offer suggestions and input. White House counselor Dan Bartlett said he often won't tell the staff ahead of time that their suggestions won’t make it into the speech because "sometimes you won't get the same level of output" from them later.
He added that the White House has a calmer approach to the speech after five tries with “a little bit of a routine to it now.”
The speech begins in early fall as suggestions start rolling from the White House’s domestic, economic and foreign policy directors. By Christmas, speechwriters have a draft of topics, themes and some phrasing.
Other input comes from Capitol Hill and advocacy groups lobbying for their policy goal to be included in the speech.
"Every word matters enormously," Waldman said. "There's a lot of interest in the commas, in the dashes. From Cabinet secretaries to assistants, everyone is involved."
“This one is going to be watched more than any of the others he’s done and he has a great opportunity,” Tammy Bruce, a syndicated radio host, told FOX News on Monday. “At the same time, he can’t do the usual Republican standard of limited government and less spending because then it would be a comedy show because he is doing the opposite.”
Besides the speech, thought goes into other decisions such as who will sit in the first lady's box in the House chamber, fact sheets on proposals in the speech and post-speech plans to help launch the president's agenda.
Later this week, Bush will travel nationwide to outline initiatives from the speech. The president will begin a series of four major policy speeches, beginning with Maplewood, Minn., this week, said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
"The president is going to be traveling the country to speak directly to the American people," McClellan said. "It will be an opportunity for the president to lay out in greater detail his 2006 agenda."
Bush also is traveling this week to Nashville, Tenn., Albuquerque, N.M., and Dallas for other events.
FOX News' Greg Kelly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.