Politics & Government

In VP pick, Clinton chooses a ‘happy warrior’

In the end it was Tim Kaine’s biography that led Hillary Clinton to choose him as her running mate over possible contenders who are bolder, younger, more diverse or close to her family.

Kaine, 58, a senator from the battleground state of Virginia who was one of Clinton’s earliest supporters, offers the Democrat what she wanted in most categories as she searched for a safe, dependable vice president who wouldn’t need on-the-job training. He has working-class roots. He’s worked as a missionary in Latin America, and he speaks Spanish. He has executive experience as a former governor. And he’s familiar with national security as a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.

And he has a reputation as a genuinely nice person.

“Tim Kaine is the nicest, most pleasant person I have ever worked for,” said Preston Byrant, a former Republican legislator who went to work in Kaine’s Cabinet as secretary of natural resources. “Even his fiercest opponents say he’s a great guy.”

That bio landed Kaine on Barack Obama’s list for vice president in 2008, but he came up short to Joe Biden.

Clinton announced her selection by text and Twitter on Friday night while campaigning in central Florida, three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention. The two will campaign together Saturday at Florida International University in Miami, where more than half the student body is Hispanic.

“I’m thrilled to tell you this first: I’ve chosen Sen. Tim Kaine as my running mate,” Clinton said in her text message. “Welcome him to our team.”

If Kaine has an obvious downside in a profession of charisma, it’s his lack of it.

“I am boring,” he said on NBC. “Boring is the fastest-growing demographic in this country.”

A more substantive downside: Kaine, a centrist in the mold of Clinton, is unlikely to excite the liberal wing of the party, which flocked to her former rival Bernie Sanders in droves during the primary season.

Among Kaine’s offenses for that faction: He supported giving the White House the authority to approve a controversial 12-nation Pacific trade pact and he signed on to a letter that liberals said called for looser bank regulations. Said Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of the liberal group Democracy for America: “potentially disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump this fall.”

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Kaine was the oldest of three boys raised in the suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri, where his father owned a small iron-welding shop. He majored in economics at the University of Missouri before attending Harvard Law School, alongside his longtime partner in politics, Mark Warner, another Virginia governor turned senator. Kaine was a civil rights lawyer specializing in housing discrimination in Richmond for more than a dozen years.

He took a year off to work as a Roman Catholic missionary in Honduras, where he ran a program teaching carpentry and welding, and he learned to speak Spanish. While campaigning with Clinton last week at a rally in Annandale, Virginia, Kaine declared: “Estamos listos para Hillary!” or “We are ready for Hillary!”

In 1994, he won a seat on the Richmond City Council, and he was elected mayor by majority-black members of the council four years later. He later served as lieutenant governor and then governor – convincing voters that his personal opposition to the death penalty and abortion would not mean he would not support the laws. He left office in 2010 after his term ended – Virginia allows only one term – with a healthy approval rating.

In Richmond, the capital, poor relations with Republican legislators largely prevented Kaine from succeeding in much of his ambitious agenda to tackle some of the state’s most difficult problems, including pumping more money into education and improving the notoriously clogged roads. He generally told lawmakers about the reasoning behind his proposals in hopes they would back him, but he did not usually negotiate or socialize with them. Sometimes he failed to inform them at all.

Still, he left office with some unexpected achievements: passing a ban on smoking in many bars and restaurants, setting aside millions to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and preserving 400,000 acres of open space. He helped Democrats win unprecedented victories, including turning Virginia blue in a presidential election for the first time in more than four decades.

He is still remembered for his leadership after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, which led to statewide mental health revisions and won him praise from members of both parties.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Nornment took a swipe at Clinton in his statement but had nothing by praise for Kaine. “Senator Kaine is a dedicated and honorable public servant who has served our commonwealth for more than two decades,” he said.

In 2012, he defeated Republican George Allen for the Senate, where he’s made a name for himself arguing that there’s no legal authority for the current U.S. mission in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State. He was the first senator to deliver a speech in Spanish from the floor of the Senate, when pushing for a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws.

With a year left in Kaine’s term, Obama tapped him to be the national Democratic Party chairman, a role that didn’t seem to fit a man who is less attack dog and more sunny optimist. But he took on the role as a “happy warrior,” delivering the attack lines needed as party chair — and vice president – with a smile.

He was hammered for his frequent political travel out of the state, and initially resisted releasing his travel records until the media forced him to do so through public records laws.

Kaine is married to Anne Holton, a former juvenile judge who stepped down when she moved into Virginia’s historic governor’s mansion for a second time, this time with her husband. Her father, Linwood Holton Jr., served as a Republican governor of Virginia when she was a child in the 1970s and helped integrate Richmond public schools by sending his children to all-black schools. Linwood Holton is a familiar face at Kaine’s events. Anne Holton now serves as education secretary to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close friend to the Clintons.