ST. PETERSBURG — Forget Election Day. Forget the last four months of relentless scrutiny and invective and campaign rhetoric.
For Tim Kaine, the personal highlight of the 2016 presidential race might have come Saturday at a Get Out the Vote rally at the State Theatre, courtesy of Jon Bon Jovi.
"Now that I've got Mr. Kaine up here — or as I like to call him backstage, T.K.," the mega-selling rocker said after Kaine concluded a brief stump speech, "we're gonna play one more together."
And so it happened that Tim Kaine, America's dad-rock candidate for vice president, got to jam out on harmonica with Bon Jovi.
On the same day Joe Piscopo stumped for Trump in Tampa, his fellow New Jersey native Bon Jovi, did the same in St. Petersburg for his longtime friend Hillary Clinton, playing a free, intimate but packed solo show for fewer than 800 ticket-holders who began queuing up around the same time Trump took the stage across the bay.
It was a small rally, but as Bon Jovi noted, size wasn't the point.
"There are more people in this room than decided the election in 2000, and we all know the impact that had," he said.
Of all Clinton's star-studded fourth-quarter voter rallies — Beyoncé and Jay Z in Ohio, Katy Perry in Philadelphia, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony in Miami — this might have been the unlikeliest. Here was one of the best-selling rock singers of the past 40 years playing a zero-frills rock club — a place that next week will host the death metal band Carcass — alongside a man who come next week could be America's vice president-elect. Congressional candidate Charlie Crist and U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy were there, too. Take a picture, St. Petersburg: This was one State marquee you'll never see again.
But for Kaine, talk about on-brand messaging. As he seeks to succeed Joe Biden as America's Cool Dad, the former Virginia governor has been waving his dad-rock flag all over the place, pledging allegiance to the Replacements, Alabama Shakes and Dave Matthews, among others. He benefited from a $3,000-a-head fundraiser with Bon Jovi all the way back in 2013. You know there's zero chance he hasn't karaoke'd to Wanted Dead Or Alive at least twice.
After a brief address to the ticketless on a stage outside the State, Kaine joined Bon Jovi inside during a four-song acoustic set: Who Says You Can't Go Home, Lost Highway, Livin' On a Prayer and You Give Love a Bad Name.
"If you put your votes behind Hillary Clinton," Kaine told the Florida voters, "it's done. She will be president."
The object of the night was voter engagement, and as he worked the line outside the State, Mayor Rick Kriseman said that based on the number of tickets handed out — way more than the State can hold — that much was accomplished.
"It's really an opportunity for everyone to be registered to take part in our system: Get out and vote," he said.
For some, though, the only object was getting inside to see Bon Jovi.
Fans began lining up early Saturday for a prime spot near the stage. Many were Clinton supporters, but a few also happened to be Bon Jovi diehards. Like Julia Christy Pile of Tampa, who recently shelled out for third-row seats to Bon Jovi's February concert at Amalie Arena.
"I just spent an untold amount of money that my husband can never know about for the VIP tickets," she said. This experience, she said, should top even that.
Landing the plum opening gig was singer-songwriter Steve Cary, a local Clinton campaign staffer who normally plays beach resorts and downtown dives. Forget opening for someone like Bon Jovi — he'd never even played the State Theatre.
"I feel like I missed a couple rungs on the ladder," Cary said as the Secret Service searched his guitar case.
Every now and then, a passer-by on Central Avenue would honk their support or shout their disapproval. Early in the afternoon, a Trump supporter shouted, "Hillary for prison!" before trying to enter an adjacent ice cream parlor. It was closed.
But New Jersey hair metal transcends even the hardest party lines. There were Trump supporters on hand Saturday night, even if they didn't exactly broadcast their presence.
"I would sit through any of this Tim Kaine and Hillary Clinton stuff just to hear a concert," said Trump backer Jonathan Zakel, 30, of Land O' Lakes, who got in line at noon. "This is something you don't get every day. He's never going to come to someplace like this ever again."
Even though he's already cast his vote for Trump, Zakel plans to hit a Kissimmee rally with Stevie Wonder on Sunday and one in St. Petersburg with Jimmy Buffett on Monday.
"It's all about the experience," he said. "So thank you, Hillary, for that."
Contact Jay Cridlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.