Numerous media reports this week had Kaine and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, as the last two finalists in the Clinton veepstakes. A selection of Vilsack would have signaled the targeting of "white working-class men — especially in rural areas — in the Midwest," also being targeted by Donald Trump with his pick of Indiana Gov Mike Pence, Gabriel DeBenedetti and Helena Bottemiller Evich reported for Politico Tuesday.
Clinton and Vilsack have known each other for 40 years, and he supported her when he dropped out of the presidential race in 2007. But when his name surfaced as a finalist, some African Americans questioned it, giving his hasty firing of USDA official Shirley Sherrod, a black woman, in 2010 after she was misquoted by a right-wing news site.
Vilsack has little if any record on gun issues, but Kaine has an F rating from the National Rifle Association. Debuting with Clinton in Miami, he said, "When the vast majority of Americans and a majority of [National Rifle Association] members agree that we have to enact common sense gun safety measures, Hillary and I will not rest."
Kaine, 58, grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Kan. He is the son-in-law of Linwood Holton, the first Republican governor of Virginia (a moderate, 1970-74) and a native of Big Stone Gap, in the Central Appalachian coalfield. Kaine started his political career on the Richmond City Council, which elected him mayor of the racially fractious city, then was lieutenant governor. After a term as governor (Virginia allows only one) he was President Obama's first chair of the Democratic National Committee.
"As governor of Virginia, Mr. Kaine appealed to both Democrats in urban pockets and independents in rural areas, and established a reputation as a pragmatic consensus builder," writes Amy Chozick of The New York Times. But his main appeal in the 2012 Senate race was to swing voters in Northern Virginia, and when he made an appearance with Clinton in Virginia last week, it was in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Annandale.
Kaine's main electoral assets appear to be his residence — Virginia is a swing state with 13 electoral votes, and Clinton will now be able to spend elsewhere most of the money she would have spent in the Old Dominion — and his fluency in Spanish, which will help turn out Hispanic voters in several other swing states. But he may add a flourish from old-time rural campaigns; he plays the harmonica.
Kaine has no apparent blemishes on his record. Virginian Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a political consultant who once specialized in reaching rural voters for Democrats, has been skeptical of Clinton's prospects and has said he will vote for Trump, told Paul Schwartzmann of The Washington Post: "The boy is cleaner than the Board of Health. If there's one thing Hillary needs, it's clean."