Wherever Tim Kaine goes these days, he says it’s “a treat” to be there.
It didn’t matter whether the bus he was riding with Hillary Clinton, for their first campaign swing since the Democratic convention, deposited him in a wire factory or a toy manufacturing plant.
Not only was it a treat, Kaine told his audiences, but he was so honored to be Clinton’s running mate that he “just can’t put it into words.”
At each stop on this trip, which is taking them through Pennsylvania and Ohio, the senator from Virginia eagerly embraced his new role as Clinton’s most enthusiastic booster. With an “aw, shucks” demeanor, he skewered Republican nominee Donald Trump and never failed to tell the audience how much he likes and trusts Clinton, a candidate who has struggled with voters in both of those crucial departments.
“We’ve got the right leader in Hillary Clinton,” Kaine said, adding she was “a candidate we can believe in.” At another point, he said, “I admire Hillary so very, very much.”
Pumping up Clinton is only half of Kaine’s job on the campaign stump. The other half is tearing down Trump, whom he paints as a dishonest businessman who refuses to pay his contractors for work on projects like casinos he used to own in Atlantic City.
“He’s got a track record of people believing him and getting stiffed and getting hurt,” Kaine said.
But Kaine always makes sure to attack with a twinkle in his eye. At one point he emphasized the optimistic tone of the Democratic convention, contrasting it with a darker portrayal of the country from the Republican convention the week before in Cleveland.
“Oh my gosh,” Kaine said. “It was a dark and twisted journey through the mind of Donald Trump, a very scary place to be.” His voice took on a ghoulish tone, as if he were reading a ghost story to a child.
Kaine has been with Clinton every step of the way on this trip, riding on the same bus as her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton, is also on board, having stepped down from her job as Virginia’s secretary of education to help campaign.
Out of everyone that Clinton considered as a potential running mate, Kaine “wasn’t the person she knew the longest or knew the best,” said John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman. But “it’s been an easy transition,” he said, and they’ve enjoyed each other’s company.
“We’re really happy, from the moment he hit the stage in Miami,” Podesta said, referring to their debut as a political team one week ago.
Kaine seems overjoyed with his new gig.
“For us to just be sitting on a bus shooting the breeze with Hillary and Bill Clinton, I mean, I gotta tell ya, I’m still sort of pinching myself,” he told union workers in Johnstown.
Kaine was mayor of Richmond and governor of Virginia before he became a senator — a long track record that neatly meshes with Clinton’s emphasis on contrasting her experience with Trump’s lack of a government background.
The campaign also hopes his background in Virginia will give him the political dexterity to be an asset in campaign battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Ohio, the two states being visited on this bus tour.
Clinton’s campaign is hoping to undercut Trump’s appeal to white, working-class voters who have been drawn to the New York businessman’s promises to stop illegal immigration and protect manufacturing jobs.
Kaine has leaned on his own family’s story during the bus trip, talking about his father’s ironworking business in the Kansas City area. His mom helped sell the product, Kaine said, while he and his brothers helped in the shop.
“If you grow up in a small-business family, it’s all hands on deck, just like this campaign,” he said. “Everybody comes down — the kids come down if you’ve got to get an order out, if it’s a holiday or a weekend.”
Kaine’s debut has inspired gentle jokes about his jovial yet vanilla demeanor on the campaign trail. The gags paint the senator as an affable father figure, the kind that makes teenagers roll their eyes but is always quick to lend a helping hand.
“Tim Kaine left you some yogurt in the fridge because he knows how you like yogurt,” joked a columnist at the Washington Post.
“It’s a dad meme going on right now,” Podesta chuckled. A favorite on the campaign bus is “Tim Kaine’s Secret Service code name is Tim Kaine.”
There have been a few growing pains along the way. Kaine told CNN on Friday that he still supports the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion that Clinton wants to end.
When a CNN reporter got close enough in Harrisburg later that day to ask Kaine about policy differences with Clinton, he said, “My job is to support the president, and that’s what I do.”
Clinton seems pretty pleased with her choice.
In front of a cheering crowd in Harrisburg, she said, “I think I made the right call when I called Tim Kaine last week.”