1. Florida Politics

Meet Clinton running mate Sen. Tim Kaine: A liberal who rose in a conservative state

Hillary Clinton's running mate Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia speaks during a rally at Florida International University in Miami on Saturday. Clinton believes Kaine, a battleground state politician with working-class roots and fluency in Spanish, could boost her chances to defeat Donald Trump in November. [Ruth Fremson | New York Times]
Hillary Clinton's running mate Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia speaks during a rally at Florida International University in Miami on Saturday. Clinton believes Kaine, a battleground state politician with working-class roots and fluency in Spanish, could boost her chances to defeat Donald Trump in November. [Ruth Fremson | New York Times]
Published Jul. 23, 2016

WASHINGTON — The day after Barack Obama became the first African-American to win the White House, Tim Kaine, then the governor of Virginia, visited a civil rights memorial in Richmond. There, in a former capital of the Confederacy, he summed up the history-making moment in four words.

"Ol' Virginny is dead," an exhausted but happy Kaine declared.

It was a reference to a former official state song whose slavery-era lyrics — "this old darkey's heart" who "labored hard for old massa" — stood for a history that Kaine, a Midwest-born, Harvard-educated former civil rights lawyer, reviled. But Obama's 6-point victory in Virginia was also, in a way, a parallel of Kaine's own success there.

As mayor of Richmond, lieutenant governor, governor, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and now senator, Kaine has deftly managed his own rise as a progressive in a bastion of Southern conservatism.

Timothy Michael Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, is widely described by people in his political orbit as a likable if less than charismatic figure — "I'm boring," he conceded on NBC's Meet The Press — guided by moral convictions that flow from his deep Christian faith. In hyperpartisan Washington, he is often seen as a centrist. He has tangled with Obama on military and foreign policy, and irritates many progressives with his support for free trade.

But his calm, even temperament — when angry, he is apt to say he is "steamed" — leads to misguided assumptions about his core beliefs. At heart, Kaine is an old-fashioned liberal, dyed-in-the-wool.

Driven by Jesuit ideals, he represented death row inmates and victims of housing discrimination in Richmond, winning a $100.5 million verdict in a redlining case against Nationwide Insurance (it was overturned on appeal, and his team negotiated a $17.5 million settlement). He was so touched by his clients that Rhonda Harmon, a lawyer who worked with him on the housing case, said she once found him poring over papers at his desk "with tears in his eyes."

He gets an F rating from the National Rifle Association, but a perfect score from Planned Parenthood, despite his personal opposition to abortion, which he says is a matter of his Roman Catholic faith.

As governor, Kaine may best be remembered for how he handled trying moments.

Despite his revulsion for capital punishment, he allowed 11 executions to proceed, telling voters he had an obligation to carry out Virginia law. And after the 2007 massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech University by a deranged student — until the massacre in Orlando, it was the deadliest rampage by a single gunman in American history — he won admiration from both sides of the aisle for his compassion.

"I don't want to say anything bad about him, because he's a very nice guy, but I don't want to say anything good about him because I'm a Republican," said Speaker William J. Howell of the Virginia House of Delegates.

"The one thing I will say for him is, unlike some other governors we've had, he didn't seem to waver or waffle," Howell said. "He never stuck his finger in the air to see which way the wind was blowing."

As a politician, Kaine has been scandal-free. But under Virginia's liberal ethics laws at the time, he accepted more than $120,000 worth of gifts, including some from companies with business before the state, while he was lieutenant governor and governor.

The gifts were legal but national Republicans, irked by public corruption charges against Kaine's Republican successor, Bob McDonnell, for accepting gifts, have signaled they intend to use them to attack Kaine's character this fall.

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Kaine was raised in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, where his father owned a welding shop. He attended an all-boys Jesuit high school, and then the University of Missouri, with the intention of being a journalist.

He graduated in three years, then went onto Harvard Law School — only to decide, he said in a C-SPAN interview, that he needed to "step away from the treadmill" to "decide on my path in life." So he took a year off to join Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, an experience friends say had a profound impact, and picked up Spanish.

Back at Harvard, he met Anne Holton, his future wife and the daughter of a former Virginia governor, Linwood Holton, a moderate Republican who had desegregated the state's schools.

When they married, they settled in Richmond, in an integrated neighborhood, and joined St. Elizabeth, a mostly black Roman Catholic church. Kaine, who often travels with several harmonicas, also sings in the gospel choir and particularly likes Wade in the Water, an African-American spiritual, according to the Rev. Jim Arsenault, the pastor there.

"Anne and I both decided early on that reconciliation would be the mission of our lives," Kaine told the Washington Post in 2012. Holton, a former judge, is now secretary of education in Virginia. They have three children; the eldest is a Marine.

In 1994, Kaine won a seat on the City Council; in 1998, under the system in Richmond at the time, his fellow council members elected him mayor. In that role, his support for keeping an image of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, in a city mural drew the ire of the NAACP.

"Much of our history is not pleasant; you can't whitewash it," Kaine said then.

But he was by all accounts instrumental in bridging the city's racial divide. Viola Baskerville, an African-American colleague, worked with him on an explosive issue: restricting black newspaper vendors, members of the Nation of Islam, from hawking papers on city-owned median strips. Kaine framed the debate as one of public safety, not race, and black and white council members voted to allow papers to be sold on city sidewalks instead.

Baskerville said she had a sense, early on, that Kaine had higher aspirations in public life.

"I could tell he had goals, that he was headed somewhere — and I actually looked at him, and I said, "You're running for City Council, but I see you in the governor's mansion," she said. "And he kind of laughed at that."

In 2001, a quirk of fate helped Kaine become Virginia's lieutenant governor. Emily Couric, a state senator and the sister of television newswoman Katie Couric, bowed out of the race after learning she had pancreatic cancer. Kaine ran and won, serving under Mark Warner, an old acquaintance from Harvard Law who was elected governor.

Critics of Kaine describe him as Warner's "mini-me."

"He's a company man," said Dan Allen, who was an adviser to George Allen (no relation), the Republican Kaine beat in 2012 to win his Senate seat. "He was in Mark Warner's footsteps as lieutenant governor, then he was in the footsteps of Obama. From a Clinton standpoint, this is a guy who's shown a pattern of, he's more than willing to be a follower in the footsteps of whomever is the leader."

Warner, who is now Kaine's colleague in the U.S. Senate, rejects such characterizations as unfair. He said Kaine took on issues including tax reform and education, calling him "a partner" and a "steadying force" as lieutenant governor.

Virginia governors serve for only one term, and in 2005 Kaine ran to succeed Warner, beating Republican Jerry Kilgore, then the state's attorney general, in a race where Kaine's opposition to the death penalty became a central issue. Kaine managed to deflect it with an ad in which he stared into the camera and declared his position a matter of faith; he won 52 percent of the vote.

"The issue was that Tim Kaine was too liberal for Virginia," said Bob Holsworth, a longtime Virginia political analyst. But he said Kaine also correctly sensed that demographic shifts could work in his favor; rather than concentrate on conservative Democrats in the southwestern part of the state, he "made a case in the emerging large suburban areas" that he would address practical and nonpartisan concerns, like limiting growth.

On April 16, 2007, Kaine confronted perhaps his biggest test, the Virginia Tech shootings. Kaine, on a trade mission to Japan, quickly flew home to comfort grieving families and confront the carnage — as well as questions about the state-run university's responsibility for the attack.

He commissioned a panel to look into the causes of the massacre, which produced a report that Lori Hanky Haas, whose daughter was wounded in the attack, complained was "full of glaring holes." Family members demanded that he fire the university president; Kaine refused. Haas, a gun control advocate, said he seemed caught between his duties as governor and his "natural inclination to be compassionate to the families."

Aware that restricting gun rights would be a losing cause in Virginia, the home of the NRA, Kaine, a staunch supporter of gun control, used his executive powers to expand mental health services.

Kaine's legislative victories as governor were few; he was stymied by Republicans when he tried to raise taxes, but persuaded lawmakers to pass a statewide smoking ban in restaurants, an achievement in a tobacco-growing state. In a fight with the legislature over budget cuts, his administration closed highway rest stops, saying the money was needed for human services; Republicans viewed it as petulant.

In 2007, Kaine became the first Democratic governor outside Illinois to back Obama; Obama considered him as a running mate, but later asked him to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Though Democrats lost badly in the 2010 midterm elections, Kaine mostly escaped blame.

In the Senate, Kaine has carved out a different policy persona than the more centrist Warner, focusing on issues like Syria and veterans' affairs. In 2013, he made Senate history with a floor speech entirely in Spanish — an address in support of an immigration law overhaul. He has also battled the White House over Obama's plans to fight the Islamic State, pointedly telling Obama that if he intends to go to war, he will have to seek Congress' permission.

Like Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Kaine, at his core, is a man of deep religious faith. And while some liberals may have preferred Sens. Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as Clinton's running mate, Kaine's allies argue that he is more experienced at threading political needles without alienating people.

In 2009, under intense pressure from abortion rights advocates and his own aides to veto a bill allowing "Choose Life" license plates, Kaine signed it anyway, arguing that it would lay the constitutional groundwork for abortion rights advocates to get their own license plate.

"We were all focused on how we were going to get hammered by signing this thing," Wayne Turnage, his former chief of staff, recalled, "and he was three steps in front of us."


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