TAMPA, Fla. — Hillary Clinton announced Friday that she has picked Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate, making a safe, centrist choice that will likely disappoint some in the progressive wing of her party.
“I’m thrilled to tell you this first: I’ve chosen Sen. Tim Kaine as my running mate,” Clinton wrote in a text message to her supporters Friday night. In a later email, she said she chose Kaine because she was confident he could step in and be president at a “moment’s notice” and because he is beloved by his staff and Senate colleagues. “To know Tim is to love him,” she wrote.
Clinton will appear with Kaine Saturday at a rally in Miami, where the 58-year-old former governor of Virginia will likely show off his Spanish skills picked up in his younger days during a year in Honduras working alongside missionaries. The pair will then head to the Democratic National Convention next week.
Kaine offers Clinton many strengths as a running mate: He has foreign policy experience from his time on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate; he can boost her chances to win the battleground state of Virginia; and he has a squeaky-clean, nice-guy image that could help Clinton with her trust issues among voters. Kaine is self admittedly “boring,” and is a middle-aged white man, but he also speaks fluent Spanish and has attended a predominantly black church for two decades, suggesting he could be better than expected at minority voter outreach.
What Kaine is not, however, is an attack dog. He’s also not a liberal stalwart able to draw disaffected supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders to the ticket, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was also considered for the VP job. When Clinton and Kaine appeared at a rally together in Annandale, Va., last week, Kaine debuted family-friendly attack lines against Trump, calling him a “me-first” candidate who “trash talks” Latinos, women and others. This was in sharp contrast to Warren, who called Trump a “small, insecure money-grubber” in a barnstorming appearance with Clinton in May.
Some progressives in the party say they don’t like Kaine’s past support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and NAFTA trade deals, which could hurt Clinton in the Rust Belt where Donald Trump has made inroads by opposing those deals. (Kaine’s personal opposition to abortion as a Catholic also alienates some progressives.) Those progressives hoped Clinton would pick a more liberal running mate, one who rails against Wall Street and wealth inequality, to rally Sanders’ supporters to her side for the general election.
“So far, the Clinton campaign has been surprisingly bold in the progressive positions they’ve carved out,” Adam Green, founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said last week. “And to go an extremely cautious route with a VP pick would cut against their pattern so far.”
But the Clinton campaign provided progressives with a potential VP pick they found even more worrisome than Kaine. Last week, several news outlets began reporting that Clinton was considering Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a longtime Clinton friend and former governor of Iowa, for the job. Some Sanders supporters call Vilsack “Mr. Monsanto” for his role in watering down the special labeling of genetically engineered food, and are more united in their opposition to him than to Kaine. It’s possible that floating Vilsack as vice president will soften the landing of Kaine among the 1,900 Sanders delegates who are attending the convention in Philadelphia, which starts Monday. Sanders also formally endorsed Clinton earlier this month and was given a prime speaking slot at the convention.
In recent weeks, Clinton reportedly considered retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis, who worked for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the invasion of Iraq. She also considered a host of running mates who had more credibility among liberals than Kaine, who besides Elizabeth Warren included Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Housing Secretary Julian Castro and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.
The process was run by Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, and was fairly free of drama or leaks. Clinton met with Kaine after their joint rally last week and then again last Saturday, with both of their families, a Clinton campaign official said. Kaine is the only potential running mate Clinton met with twice. Podesta advised Clinton to pick someone who made her happy when he walked into the room.
Last week, Trump’s rollout of Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate was marred by leaks to the news media of Trump’s pick and a story reported that the real estate mogul was attempting to back out of the decision as late as the night before the announcement. Trump made the announcement at a ballroom in Hilton in New York on Saturday, where the two men only shared the stage for a few seconds.
Trump has had a long war with Warren — he calls her “Pocahontas” for claiming Cherokee ancestry — but hasn’t weighed in on Kaine, and it’s unclear how he’ll portray the pick. The Clinton campaign and her allies have painted Pence as an “extreme” running mate, citing his record on LGBT issues and abortion.
Kaine was on the shortlist to be President Barack Obama’s running mate in 2008, but was sidelined for the more experienced Joe Biden. Obama made Kaine the chair of the Democratic National Committee instead. The New York Times reported that both Obama and President Bill Clinton supported him for Clinton’s ticket.
The experience perhaps made him circumspect this time around, as he consistently told reporters that he didn’t believe he’d be picked for the job. “I have a great feeling that I’m going to be on that podium with Hillary Clinton when she’s taking the oath of office,” Kaine recently told CNN. “But I’m going to be sitting with the other senators.”