Friday’s announcement that Tim Kaine would be Hillary Clinton’s running mate was met with skepticism by some, confusion by others, and a huge shrug by most. Tim who? In his announcement speech, Kaine even alluded to the common sentiment. “Let me be honest,” he said, “for many of you, this is the first time you’ve ever even heard my name.”
Who is Tim Kaine? He’s the perfect choice to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate.
Demographically speaking, some in the Democratic party would have been happier if Hillary had boosted her support of non-whites with a choice like Cory Booker or Julian Castro, but Clinton didn’t need to shore up those voting blocs. Over three-fourths of African-Americans and Hispanics already say they will vote for Hillary Clinton, while Donald Trump can’t even clear 10 percent with African-Americans or 20 percent with Latinos (recent polls show Trump with 0 percent of the black vote in Ohio and Pennsylvania). Tim Kaine doesn’t hurt Clinton with those voting groups. In fact, he may actually help. He’s popular among blacks in his home state (he was elected mayor of Richmond, which is a majority black city) and he’s been attending the same majority-black Catholic church for 30 years. The fact that he’s fluent in Spanish also doesn’t hurt with Latino voters, either. He famously gave a speech on immigration on the Senate floor three years ago entirely in Spanish.
A female vice-presidential candidate like Elizabeth Warren might have also helped Clinton slightly among female voters, but again, that’s a demographic Clinton already commands. She holds roughly a 60 to 35 lead over Trump among women.
Clinton’s kryptonite, however, is white men, where Trump leads in the vicinity of 55 to 25 percent. It’s there where she has the most to gain. Having a white male on the ticket may help swing a few independents and Republicans disillusioned with Donald Trump. The selection of Kaine, after all, helped to encourage one of the nation’s most well-known independents, Mike Bloomberg, to endorse Hillary over Trump, and that alone may make a difference in a close swing state.
Hillary Clinton already had a solid lead in the purple state of Virginia, but putting Tim Kaine — who is more popular in his home state than Trump’s VP pick Mike Pence is in Indiana — increases the likelihood that Clinton takes those 13 electoral votes to the bank. More importantly, Tim Kaine’s fluency in Spanish helps Clinton with swing-state Florida’s crucial Latino population, and the fact that Kaine was raised in Kansas and attended college in Missouri may even help her somewhat in the Show Me State, where some polls during the campaign have suggested Clinton is competitive. The fact that Kaine is the son of an iron worker may also help Clinton in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where she struggles with blue-collar workers. Similarly, having a wife who is the daughter of a former Republican governor won’t hurt Kaine with moderate Republicans and independents, either.
The Democrats are currently slightly more unified behind their candidate than the Republicans, and most Bernie supporters have come around on Hillary, even if they’ve done so reluctantly and as a decision based on the lesser of two evils. Tim Kaine doesn’t help Hillary Clinton with the obstinate Bernie or Bust voters, but it’s unlikely that any candidate would have. In fact, rather than swing their allegiances toward Clinton if Elizabeth Warren had been chosen, many of these Bernie voters would have turned against Warren instead. Some of these same voters turned against their own candidate when he endorsed Clinton. Over the weekend, in fact, the Bernie or Bust crowd demanded that Bernie Sanders disavow Clinton, and those more strident Bernie supporters lashed out at Bernie for refusing to do so.
In other words, there’s a subset of Bernie voters that wouldn’t vote for Hillary under any circumstances, and neither Tim Kaine — nor any other pick — would’ve improved her odds with them. Choosing Warren, instead, would have cost her a Democratic Senator, while Tim Kaine will be replaced in the Senate by another Democrat. Moreover, Bernie Sanders himself does have some respect for Tim Kaine, so it’s not a total lost cause with the Bernie Sanders crowd.
Anyone who likes Hillary Clinton’s policies is not going to be put off by those of Tim Kaine. He lines up so well with Clinton/Obama that Obama declined to choose him as a running mate in 2008 because he was too similar.
Tim Kaine also scores 100 percent from Planned Parenthood and an F with the National Rifle Association, which he stood up against in Virginia — where the NRA is headquartered — after the Virginia Tech shooting. His position on abortion may also help Clinton with moderates. Kaine supports the right to choose, although he personally would not choose himself (in fact, he has passed legislation in Virginia to reduce the rate of abortions). Like abortion, his position on the death penalty is also rooted in his faith. He’s personally against the death penalty, but he’s also a pragmatist who upholds the law of his state (of the 14 death penalty cases in Virginia during his tenure as governor, Kaine only granted clemency once). He has advocated for some deregulation of the banking industry and pushes for fair trade, but again, these are positions that hurt him most with the people less likely to vote for Clinton: Bernie or Bust voters and Trump supporters. As Governor of Virginia, Kaine also stood up to the tobacco lobby, making that state the first in the South to pass laws prohibiting smoking in public places. Meanwhile, Mike Pence is a cigarette truther.
Many are suggesting that Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine as VP had almost nothing to do with winning the election, and everything to do with having the right governing partner. This was also Obama’s strategy in choosing Joe Biden. Clinton wants someone who can do more than win her a swing state; she wants someone who can help her lead the country and, God forbid, take her stead should tragedy befall her. Word is, Tim Kaine already gets along well with the man many will consider Tim Kaine’s co-VP, Bill Clinton. Given Hillary’s history of conflict with Al Gore during Bill Clinton’s first term, it’s important for her to build not only a coalition among voters, but one among those who will help her run the country should she be elected President.
For many voters who are fed up with the toxicity of this presidential campaign, Tim Kaine is refreshingly boring. He’s not divisive. He’s not polarizing. He’s not hated among a huge category of people. He’s genial. He’s kind. He is not a negative campaigner. For Democrats, it might have been satisfying to watch Elizabeth Warren attack Donald Trump day after day, but Kaine seems to have something no one else in this campaign has: Optimism. He’s also well regarded among his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and may be the only Senator who gets along with Ted Cruz. Moreover, he doesn’t have a history of scandals (save for some legal gifts he accepted as governor), and there are no conspiracy theories swirling around his name.