In the sprint that is what remains of the presidential election, no campaign stop is too small. Even under the flashes of lightning storm. Even under the threat of Zika.
And so Tuesday night, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine strolled into Betty’s Soul Food Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, ready to make friends among the handful of potential voters grabbing a dinner bite as thick rain fell and purple lightning streaked the summer sky.
“I’m Tim,” he said, clad in rolled-up shirtsleeves and shaking hands with a receiving line of people waiting inside the door. “Great to see you.”
He had just headlined his first solo fundraiser for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, at the Fort Lauderdale home of lawyer Mitchell Berger. The reception netted at least $300,000 for the Hillary Victory Fund, according to the campaign. Earlier in the day, Kaine had toured Daytona State College, on one end of Central Florida’s crucial I-4 corridor.
“I think you can see Florida is really, really important to us,” Kaine said in Daytona. It was his second visit to the state in 10 days; Clinton introduced him as her running mate a little more than a week ago at Florida International University. Last week, they accepted their nominations at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Dutifully performing his role Tuesday, Kaine went after Republican nominee Donald Trump — in a nod at Miami, over Zika. The mosquito-borne virus is spreading in the city’s Wynwood neighborhood.
“If you look at what Donald Trump has said about Zika, it’s like, crickets,” Kaine said. “We are really in for a significant public-health challenge if we don’t do something about it.”
Republicans countered that Kaine, a U.S. senator, had helped kill a Zika-funding bill in Congress; Kaine blamed the GOP for attaching an anti-Planned Parenthood provision to the legislation, forcing Democrats to oppose it.
By the time he reached Betty’s, Kaine was ready to chat with African-American voters who comprise a key Democratic demographic — and to get in a little grub. “Tyler, are you going to order something for me?” he asked a young aide, handing over his wallet. The aide ordered an appetizer of jumbo fried shrimp, buffalo wings and lemonade.
“Anybody that has been elected has come here,” state Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale told Kaine after introducing him to Betty Taylor, who’s owned the restaurant for 39 years. In one corner lay a cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama.
Kaine posed for photographs, telling Smith, Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness and Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam about how much he learned as a councilman and then mayor of Richmond, Virginia.
Holness promised Broward — the state’s bluest county — would “deliver” Florida to Clinton. “We’re going to give you at least 250,000” votes, he predicted.
“From your lips to God’s ears,” Kaine said.