Hillary Clinton has tapped Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate, adding a well-liked swing-state moderate with broad governing experience to the Democratic ticket.
Clinton’s choice of Kaine, 58, reflects her calculation that voters with doubts about both her and Republican nominee Donald Trump will respond to a doubling-down of her pitch for sober pragmatism, instead of a political wild card.
Clinton tweeted late Friday that she was “thrilled” to announce Kaine as her running mate, calling him “a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others.”
But Kaine, a former mayor, lieutenant governor and governor, is not likely to animate a Democratic base drawn by the progressive fire of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. As leading Democrats and more mainstream advocacy groups on the left closed ranks around Kaine following the announcement, progressive activists warned the selection would cost Clinton substantial support among voters who backed Sanders in the Democratic primaries and could lead to a contentious national convention next week
Democracy for America, a group that endorsed Sanders, cited Kaine’s past staunch support for the Pacific trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration and his request to ease certain backing regulations in warning that putting him on the ticket “could be potentially disastrous.”
But top Democrats praised the work Kaine has done in pushing a progressive agenda in a swing state. “Kaine successfully took on NRA in a gun state, smoking in a tobacco state, climate change in a coal state,” tweeted Ron Klain, a former advisor to Obama. Some of the most influential labor, gun safety, and abortion rights leaders quickly rallied around Kaine Friday night.
A finalist to be Obama’s running mate in 2008, Kaine was long considered a front-runner for the No. 2 spot in this race.
This time around, he was the only contender who even merited a second interview. He and Clinton initially chatted in her Washington home after a joint event across the river in Northern Virginia that showcased their potential chemistry, and Kaine’s fluency in Spanish.
Clinton would welcome a series of other short-listers to her home but ultimately asked for another meeting only with Kaine. Hillary, Bill and Chelsea Clinton, as well as Chelsea’s husband, Marc Mezvinsky, went to Kaine’s home to join Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, for lunch.
Clinton needed a running mate who, “whenever they walk into a room, you are glad to see them and want to have them as part of any conversation,” top campaign aide John Podesta, himself a former White House chief of staff, told her. Clinton said Kaine was that person.
The process of searching for a running mate began in April, when Podesta arrived at Clinton’s home in suburban New York with a Duane Reade drugstore shopping bag containing binders of vetting material on more than two dozen potential choices.
He won statewide elections three times in what had long been a Republican-leaning commonwealth: for lieutenant governor in 2001, governor in 2005 and the U.S. Senate in 2012. Former aides attribute his success as much to his authenticity and affability as to his keen political acumen. He still often carries a harmonica that he has been known to whip out on the campaign trail.
In a note to supporters, Clinton said Kaine has “never taken a job for the glory or the title” and she could find nobody — Republican or Democrat — who had a bad thing to say about him.
Donald Trump did have a few things to say, though. He immediately tagged Clinton’s running mate “Corrupt Kaine,” calling him an “ethically challenged insider … who’s personally benefited from the rigged system.” Trump called out vacations, clothes, and tickets that Kaine accepted as gifts while governor, signaling the line of attack he and running mate Mike Pence will be taking.
Kaine again endorsed early in this presidential race, this time for Clinton even before she had taken steps toward a second run. Just as with Obama, Kaine has talked of Clinton’s own barrier-breaking candidacy in 2016. Speaking with donors in California this week, he described the role of vice president in the first female presidency as historic.
Kaine, who married the daughter of a former Republican governor of Virginia, is at odds with his party’s mainstream on some issues. A devout Catholic, Kaine has said he considers himself personally antiabortion, and he supports some restrictions on the practice. But he has maintained support for Roe vs. Wade and as a senator has earned support from leading abortion-rights groups.
“While Senator Kaine has been open about his personal reservations about abortion, he’s maintained a 100% pro-choice voting record in the U.S. Senate,” said a statement from Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “He voted against dangerous abortion bans, he has fought against efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and he voted to strengthen clinic security by establishing a federal fund for it.”
One major selling point for Clinton was Kaine’s credentials on gun control, which has emerged as a key issue for her and which Obama has identified as a litmus test for his support. As governor during the shooting massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007, Kaine partnered with the GOP Legislature and Virginia’s Republican attorney general to strengthen the state’s background check system. Vice President Joe Biden joined Kaine in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shooting to highlight those reforms as a template for what could be accomplished on the national level. Kaine has noted that they were implemented in the state where the powerful National Rifle Assn. lobbying group, which opposed key bipartisan legislation, is headquartered. The national advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety tweeted that the choice of Kaine “underscores that Hillary Clinton is putting gun safety first during this campaign.”
“He really championed it, was persistent on it,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who worked closely with Kaine in drafting legislation they each introduced in their respective chambers. “You could tell it was a matter of deep principle for him. I think that kind of principled conviction and determination is a great quality to have in a vice president.”
On another Obama priority, the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, Kaine worked with Republican and Democratic skeptics of the deal on legislation that would ultimately provide a mechanism for Congress to vote to approve or reject it.
“He understood that Congress needed to have a role in spite of the fact that the administration itself was not pleased or interested in that,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman and co-sponsor of the legislation. “Because of his closeness to the administration … that really gave it a lot of momentum.”
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, also praised the “very important role” Kaine has played on his panel, saying his work has “been bipartisan.”
Such praise from Republicans is typical for Kaine, who has worked with a bipartisan group of former governors in the chamber.
“He is a problem-solver who is more interested in getting things done than ideological purity or purely partisan point-scoring,” Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine and also a former governor, wrote in an op-ed encouraging Clinton to choose his colleague.
Allies say he brings a number of assets to the ticket, including a personal style that could boost a Democratic standard-bearer with low personal favorability ratings.
“He has to be among the senators least affected by his own position,” Schiff said. “He comes across very much as the same person that I imagine he was before entering public service very humble, easygoing and grounded.”
Times staff writer Evan Halper in Washington contributed to this report.
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7:55 p.m.: This article was updated with details on why Clinton chose Kaine.
6:35 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction to Clinton’s pick of Kaine.
This article was originally published at 5:10 p.m.