Tim Kaine made his debut as Hillary Clinton’s running mate Saturday at Florida International University, taking the stage with the soon-to-be Democratic presidential nominee in bilingual Miami so he could show off his Spanish.
“Bienvenidos a todos,” he said. Turning to Clinton, he added: “We’re going to be compañeros del alma.” Soul mates.
The Democratic ticket arrived on Miami time, more than an hour late, to deafening applause and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” They held hands, smiled and waved.
“He is a progressive who likes to get things done,” Clinton said, using the same words she’s used to describe herself. “That’s just my kind of guy, Tim!”
An upbeat Kaine told the audience of about 5,000 people at FIU’s Panther arena about his Midwestern roots, Roman Catholic faith and governing experience — and quickly did what running mates must do: He praised his presidential candidate and attacked her opponent.
“Do you want a ‘you’re fired’ president or a ‘you’re hired’ president?” he said, quoting Donald Trump’s signature reality-TV show line.
Clinton, too, took on Trump, referring to his speech Thursday accepting the nomination and comparing it to the sort of dictators many Miamians fled in their home countries.
“When someone says, ‘I alone can fix it,’” Clinton began, as the audience booed, “that should set off alarm bells, in not just Democrats’ minds but Republicans’, independents’ — people of all ages and backgrounds. That is not a democracy.”
The U.S. had a revolution, she added, “because we didn’t want one man making all the decisions.”
“No one does anything alone.”
Kaine accepted Clinton’s offer to be her vice president Friday night, ending months of speculation that the Virginia senator and former governor — a harmonica player who describes himself as “boring” — sat atop of Clinton’s VP shortlist. The Democratic National Convention, where Clinton and Kaine will formally become their party’s ticket, begins Monday in Philadelphia.
Clinton’s decision, conveyed to Kaine in a 7:32 p.m. phone call Friday, was shrouded in secrecy. To avoid reporters, her campaign manager sneaked out of Brooklyn headquarters in a freight elevator. Kaine, who was attending a fundraiser in Rhode Island, was whisked away in a different car (a Volvo) than the one he used to arrive. He landed Friday night in Miami without going back home to Richmond, Virginia; the casual gray suit and pale-blue shirt he wore Saturday — no tie — had been packed for another fundraiser in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
On Saturday, Clinton and Kaine struck an optimistic tone and breezy style that contrasted with Trump’s own presentation a week ago of running mate and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
“Tough times don’t last,” Kaine said, “but tough people do.”
The FIU rally was Clinton’s first public event in South Florida since the night of the March 15 Florida primary, when she celebrated her sweeping victory in West Palm Beach. She campaigned Friday in Orlando and Tampa.
With Kaine unknown to most voters, Clinton’s campaign deliberately introduced him in the nation’s largest swing state, a place where Clinton’s team hopes his Spanish fluency might make at least a marginal difference with the coveted Hispanic electorate. Sixty-one percent of FIU students are Hispanic.
Clinton leads Trump by about 2 percentage points in Florida polling averages; the state has invariably been close in recent presidential elections. Kaine could also give Clinton a bump in his home state of Virginia, a Democratic-leaning swing state, though running mates don’t usually give presidential candidates much of an edge.
Tweeting on Saturday, Trump derided Kaine as “owned by the banks” and anathema to liberal Democrats who were drawn to Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s primary rival. Trump has made a hard push for Sanders fans; unlike Sanders, Kaine in the Senate has backed President Barack Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Asia. (So did Pence, Trump’s own VP pick.)
“I don’t have an opinion on Tim Kaine,” said 19-year-old Lucas Manso, an FIU student and Sanders supporter who can’t vote because he’s an undocumented immigrant protected from deportation by one of Obama’s executive actions. “I was looking for a more progressive candidate.”
A couple of Trump fans protested Clinton’s appearance outside the arena.
Clinton’s slogan Saturday was “Stronger Together” — a line that coincidentally matches one recently deployed by the Miami Dolphins. “H-R-C!” yelled the crowd, using the initials for Clinton’s full name.
Displaying early signs of personal chemistry, Clinton kissed Kaine on the cheek when he took the podium. She beamed as he spoke; he read so easily off the TelePrompTer that it often seemed as if he weren’t reading at all. A Kaine aide said he hadn’t practiced the speech, which was written Friday night and edited into Saturday morning. Clinton and Kaine were delayed leaving their Miami Beach hotel because they were chatting.
After Kaine finished, his wife, Virginia Education Secretary Anne Holton, whose father was a Republican Virginia governor, joined him on stage. They plan to attend Mass at their majority African-American Richmond church.
Clinton, 68, is thought to have chosen Kaine, a political centrist, in part because of his national security credentials — he’s a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees — and his years of experience. Kaine, who’s never lost a political contest, was also considered a potential running mate for Obama in 2008.
“I have said many times that the most important qualification when you are trying to make this really big choice is, ‘Can this person step in to be president?’” Clinton said of Kaine. “Well, in every stage of his career, the people who know him best have voted to give him a promotion, and that’s because he fights for the people he represents, and he delivers real results.”
Kaine, 58, was raised in Kansas and learned Spanish in Honduras, where he spent a year as a Jesuit missionary. Switching seamlessly between the two languages might strike voters elsewhere in the country as a strange parlor trick, but not so in Miami.
“Aprendí los valores de mi pueblo: fe, familia y trabajo,” Kaine said mid-speech. Like some bilingual local politicians, he didn’t bother translating: I learned the values of my people: faith, family and work.
In pretty decent Spanish — accented and with some errors, but quite loose — Kaine reiterated Clinton’s pledge to push for immigration reform in the first 100 days of her presidency. Obama broke a similar promise, which has haunted him on Spanish-language news media throughout his tenure.
“Raise your hand if you’ve been a naturalized citizen,” Kaine said in English, as lots of hands shot up. “Thanks for choosing us!”
A Harvard law graduate and married father of three adult children, Kaine used to work as a civil-rights attorney. He’s the former head of the Democratic National Committee — a position now held by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who joined Clinton and Kaine in Miami and Tampa — and a former Richmond mayor.
Kaine shared the story of how, as governor, he learned about the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech in April 2007. He had just arrived to his hotel room in Japan for a trade mission. He returned immediately to the airport.
“April 16, 2007 — that was the worst day,” he said, pausing for a few seconds, apparently overcome with emotion, “of my life. It was the worst day of so many people’s lives.”
Kaine is familiar to some Florida Democratic activists. He keynoted the state party’s May 2009 annual fundraising bash at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. Later that same month, he spoke at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Fort Lauderdale as part of a leadership tour for Organizing for America, an outgrowth of Obama’s first campaign.
What Kaine might do is appeal to independent voters or Republicans dissatisfied with Trump.
“Donald Trump is scary as hell,” said Corey Drews, a 26-year-old FIU student from Miami who attended the rally and who’s not voting for Trump despite being registered Republican. “Extreme populism, racism, sexism — every ‘-ism’ you can put on somebody.”
After the rally, supporters who had been rapt during Kaine’s speech gave him a thumbs-up.
“He took on the NRA and fought housing policies,” an approving Manuel Santelices of Miami Beach said. “The narrative is that he’s boring, but he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing.”
“It was a great first impression,” said Jamie Adelson, a 19-year-old FIU student from Miramar who hadn’t heard of Kaine before Friday night. “He is a progressive, working for civil rights — that’s liberal.”
“He will help win over Bernie supporters,” she predicted, “and get the minority vote.”