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The Virginia senator, chosen Friday to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, will take the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where party leaders are hoping to send a message of unity — and highlight stark divisions in the Republican Party intensified by Donald Trump — on the tails of a boisterous GOP gathering in Cleveland.
Kaine, for those purposes, is something of a gamble.
The moderate Democrat has backed abortion restrictions; supported fast-track authority for a controversial Pacific Rim trade deal; and just this week joined a push to deregulate some of the nation’s largest banks — all positions that are anathema to the liberals being wooed by the Clinton team heading into November.
Raising the stakes, the convention marks the end of a bruising Democratic primary contest between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in which Sanders’s liberal supporters continuously bashed the former secretary of State for being too conservative on some of those same issues, including trade and her ties to Wall Street.
Clinton, now the presumptive nominee, has shifted left in an effort to appease those critics — with help from a recent Sanders endorsement — but in a challenge to Democrats’ unity push, throngs of protesters are expected in Philadelphia next week.
Those liberal voices, seen as vital to Clinton’s election chances, had pressed her to choose a more left-leaning vice presidential candidate — someone in the mold of Sens. Sherrod Brown(D-Ohio), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) — and it’s unclear how the more centrist Kaine will be received.
Leading up to the pick, there was a great deal of speculation that Clinton would choose either a minority or female candidate in order to maximize turnout among large blocs of voters already alienated by Trump. That list included Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Julián Castro, President Obama’s housing chief.
Following the recent terrorist attack in Nice, France, mass shootings in Texas, Florida and Louisiana, and the killing of two black men at the hands of police in Minnesota and Louisiana, the nation has grown jittery over security concerns. Trump has responded by focusing his campaign on a theme of “law and order,” and Clinton faced pressure to counter the message.
Kaine fits the bill. The former Virginia governor serves on both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, where he’s focused intently on anti-terror measures and led the push for Congress to approve a new authorization for military force specific to the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Sen. Angus King, an Independent Maine lawmaker who caucuses with Democrats, recently noted that experience as just one of many reasons Kaine is perfectly suited for the vice presidency.
“He is thoughtful and knowledgeable in foreign policy,” King told The Daily Beast last week, before Kaine was named, “and has engaged with the leaders of the world’s most troublesome places.”
There are other reasons Kaine is an attractive pick for Clinton and the Democrats.
A devout Catholic from the Midwest, Kaine was born in Minnesota, Jesuit-educated in Missouri and took time away from Harvard Law School to do missionary work in Honduras.
He’s fluent in Spanish, shifting effortlessly between the two languages on the stump. He represents Virginia, a swing state. And he’s built a reputation as a pragmatic legislator who’s able to compromise across the aisle, a trait not overlooked by Clinton as she weighed her options.
“He was a world-class mayor, governor and senator, and is one of the most highly respected senators I know,” Clinton told Charlie Rose last week.
No stranger to national politics, Kaine was on Obama’s shortlist for vice president in 2008 and headed the Democratic National Committee in the early years of the administration.
Still, the freshman senator is hardly a household name, and Clinton’s decision was likely also influenced by Trump’s own options for running mate. The business mogul passed over prominent national figures like former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to tap Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — a traditional but low-key conservative who’s not nearly as combative as others Trump had considered.
Kaine, for his part, had repeatedly downplayed the possibility that he’d be chosen. With characteristic modesty, he’d suggested he’s simply too “boring” for the job.
Clinton had a different take.
“I love that about him,” she told Rose.
Ultimately, Kaine’s moderate position on some issues may be immaterial: recent national polls show that a vast majority of Sanders supporters will stick with Democrats in November. A Pew survey released earlier this month found that 85 percent of Sanders backers said they would vote for Clinton, while just 9 percent would cross the aisle for Trump.