WASHINGTON/TAMPA, FLORIDA – Hillary Clinton named Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate for the Democratic presidential ticket, a widely anticipated choice that may say more about how she wants to govern than how she plans to win in November.
Clinton made the announcement Friday in a text message to supporters. “I’m thrilled to tell you this first: I’ve chosen Tim Kaine as my running mate. Welcome him to our team,” it said. In a message on Twitter, Clinton said Kaine has dedicated his life to fighting for others, and described him as “a relentless optimist.” The pair were to appear Saturday in Miami.
Clinton called Kaine at 7:32 p.m. Washington time to make it official, according to a campaign official, who asked for anonymity. Clinton then spoke with President Barack Obama.
Kaine, 58, a white Catholic from a battleground state who’s fluent in Spanish, is a safe choice for the woman who will this week become the first-ever female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party. Kaine’s upbringing as the son of an ironworker may hold potential appeal to steelworkers and union laborers in swing states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Republicans quickly faulted Kaine. Jason Miller, a spokesman for the party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, issued a statement describing Kaine as “ethically challenged,” citing a report in Politico saying he’d accepted more than $160,000 in gifts — including clothes and a vacation — from 2001 to 2009, while serving in public office in Virginia.
“If you think Crooked Hillary and Corrupt Kaine are going to change anything in Washington, it’s just the opposite,” Miller said. “They do well by the current system, while the rest of America gets left behind.”
In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama seriously considered Kaine, then in his third year as Virginia’s governor, for vice president but ultimately passed him over in favor of the older, more experienced Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
Since being elected to the Senate in 2012, Kaine has built his national security and economic credentials as a member of the Senate Armed Services, Foreign Relations and Budget committees. He has sought to end open-ended Authorizations for the Use of Military Force in Afghanistan and Iraq, calling for debate and votes on a new authority for the mission against Islamic State.
The choice of Kaine will have appeal to some centrist Republicans uncomfortable with Trump. Yet it is sure to create disgruntlement among the liberal Democrats who supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his drawn-out challenge to Clinton for the nomination.
Kaine is seen as more pro-Wall Street than others who Clinton considered, especially Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. This week, as speculation about his selection built, he signed two letters to regulators urging leniency for all but the biggest banks. One, to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was signed by every Republican senator and 16 other Democrats.
Clinton’s choice displeased some progressive activists who say Kaine’s support of free trade gives Republicans a new opening to attack Clinton. He’s a supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Obama’s administration negotiated with 11 other nations, and which awaits ratification in Congress. Sanders opposes the trade deal, and during the primary campaign Clinton said she wouldn’t support it in its current form.
“Republicans will run hard against Democrats on trade this year” and “now have a new opening to attack Democrats on this economic populist issue,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in a statement after Clinton made her announcement.
Democratic delegates were heading to Philadelphia for the convention starting Monday, with those who support Sanders indicating uncertainty about embracing a Clinton ticket. Sanders endorsed Clinton last week.
It “was a horrible pick,” said Angie Morelli, a Sanders delegate from Nevada. “In a time when she is trying to cater to Sanders supporters, it was more catering to conservative voters and she’s not going to get any wave from it.” She said she’s bothered by Kaine’s association with the TPP, which Sanders and Clinton oppose.
The Service Employees International Union’s president Mary Kay Henry called Kaine “the right partner” for Clinton, citing his roots as the son of an ironworker and his Spanish language skills. Environmental activist and donor Tom Steyer said it’s time to unite behind the Clinton-Kaine ticket.
Kaine has at times been cast as a boring pick, but Clinton has signaled that she sees that as an asset. “I love that about him,” she told Charlie Rose of PBS this month. In mid-July, the pair appeared together at a rally in Northern Virginia, a tryout designed to test whether the potential Democratic ticket had chemistry on the stump.
Before announcing her decision, Clinton and aides stressed that her choice would be less about campaigning than about governing. “I am afflicted with the responsibility gene,” she said in the PBS interview. “There is nothing more important than my rock-solid conviction that the person I choose could literally get up one day and be the president of the United States.”
For Clinton, choosing Kaine meant walking away from a riskier, if more tantalizing, option: an all-female ticket with Warren. Warren has actively campaigned for Clinton, including at an electrifying rally in Ohio in June, and she’s popular with the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, including many of Sanders’s backers.
While Warren would have driven up turnout among progressives, she is contentious enough that her presence on the ticket might have turned off some swing voters. The former Harvard Law School professor is fiercely independent and a vocal critic of Wall Street, potentially complicating a relationship with Clinton inside the White House.
Kaine also won out over three current members of Obama’s Cabinet who were among Clinton’s finalists, in part because of their geographic or demographic appeal: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, of Iowa, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Housing Secretary Julian Castro. The latter two are Hispanic.
Kaine also has connections with Hispanic voters, though, who’ll be a crucial part of the coalition Clinton needs to win. He previously lived in Honduras, where he became fluent in Spanish, and while in the Central American country Kaine helped manage a Jesuit missionary school. In 2013 Kaine became the first U.S. senator to deliver a full speech in Spanish on the Senate floor, when he spoke in favor of a bipartisan immigration bill.
Clinton’s announcement was sent out on Twitter in both English and Spanish.
A campaign official said Clinton’s process of selecting a running mate started in earnest in April, after the New York primary, when the campaign chairman, John Podesta, dropped off two dozen binders, in plastic bags from New York drug store Duane Reade, at her Chappaqua home. But she didn’t come to a final decision until Friday night.
When they campaigned together in Virginia, Clinton was impressed by Kaine’s down-to-earth style, the aide said, and invited him back to her Washington home for more conversations. Their meeting started with aides in the room but eventually became a one-on-one session.
On July 16, back in Chappaqua, she hosted Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, to lunch with former President Bill Clinton, daughter Chelsea Clinton and husband Marc Mezvinsky. Kaine was the only contender who got a second meeting with Clinton, the aide said.
Over the final week of her decision-making process, Clinton repeatedly returned to Kaine, expressing a personal connection and confidence in him, the aide added.
Republican nominee Trump’s choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as a running mate, a pick aimed at unifying Republicans more than luring Democrats across party lines in November, freed up Clinton to go with a safe choice that may not energize the Democratic base as much as a female or liberal pick.
“It puts her in a position of, ‘Why risk a chancy pick?’ ” political analyst Matthew Dowd said before the announcement was made. “She’s ahead. Why risk a downfield pass? Go with three yards and a cloud of dust as opposed to a long pass.”
The other contender most like Kaine in demeanor and record was Vilsack. Dowd said Kaine was a more strategic pick. Vilsack, as the current U.S. agriculture secretary, may have “too much linkage to Obama,” Dowd said, adding that Kaine could help deliver Virginia for Clinton in November while Vilsack, even as a former two-term governor, may have less sway over Iowa.
A Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Missouri and Harvard Law School, Kaine served as a law clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh District and practiced law for years before entering local politics in Virginia. He served on the Richmond city council and as mayor before ascending to lieutenant governor and winning election as governor in 2005.
As governor, Kaine supported a coal power plant, a posture that pitted him against environmentalists but could help Clinton with coal miners after her own clumsy discussion earlier this year about investing in job training, in which she said she was “going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
Kaine has three grown children. His wife, a former judge, is Virginia’s education secretary and rumored as a possible choice to fill his Senate seat should the Democrats win the White House in November.
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