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Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s Running Mate, Explained

Tim Kaine. Photograph via US Department of Education.

On Friday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton announced that Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia will be her vice-presidential candidate. Kaine, the conventional wisdom goes, brings Clinton a running mate who checks off certain “boxes”—middle-aged white guy, experience as both an executive and a legislator, from a swing state—but he’s also got a reputation for being boring.

Clinton’s selection of Kaine was first reported Friday afternoon by the New York Times. A text message from her campaign to its supporters came minutes later; their first joint rally is scheduled for Saturday in Miami.

But just who is this person who is now running to be the next vice president of the United States? Here’s a quick explainer about Kaine that’ll hopefully make this weekend’s vice-presidential cocktail chatter a bit more interesting than the senator’s most recent higher-education roundtable.

Who is Tim Kaine and how did he get here?

Born in Minnesota and raised in the Kansas City area, Kaine graduated from the University of Missouri in 1979. He went on to Harvard Law School, where he met his now-wife, Anne Holton, daughter of former Virginia Governor A. Linwood Holton. After graduating, Kaine moved to Richmond where he practiced fair-housing law. He won a seat on the Richmond City Council in 1994, and in 1998, his colleagues made him the mayor. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2001, and ran to succeed Mark Warner—now his fellow US senator—as governor in 2005.

Yeah, but did anything interesting happen during that time?

Kaine’s Richmond got a lot of praise for investing in school renovations and winning a $100 million judgment against Nationwide Insurance for the company’s discriminatory lending practices. He also opposed several tax increases, moves that landed the city on several of those “Best Places to do Business” lists. But Kaine’s time as mayor was not without controversy. He was a proponent of Project Exile, a Justice Department-led program that moved local crimes committed with illegally obtained firearms to federal courts. While the program is credited with reducing Richmond’s homicide and overall crime rates, convicts also received much longer sentences.

Being governor gave him a national profile, especially in 2008 when he became an early endorser of then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He’s also largely responsible for the Silver Line being built above ground, citing the lower costs when nudged Metro away from building the new route in an underground tunnel, as developers in Tysons had anticipated.

What’s he been doing since then?

Obama, after winning in 2008, made Kaine the head of the Democratic National Committee, where he oversaw the party’s heavy losses in the Tea Party wave elections of 2010. Since winning the Senate seat vacated in 2012 by Jim Webb (you may remember his abortive presidential campaign), Kaine has sat on the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Budget committees, where he’s been a reliable vote for the White House’s initiatives.

Yeah, but tell me something interesting about Tim Kaine.

Well, um…

Okay, then how is this milquetoast-seeming, middle-of-the-deck senator going to connect with the black, Hispanic, millennial, and working-class voters Clinton needs to win?

During law school, Kaine—a devout Catholic—took a year off to work with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, where he ran a carpentry program and became fluent in Spanish. He’s made floor speeches about immigration policy in Spanish and gives interviews to Spanish-language networks without the help of a translator. Project Exile could be a source of irritation with a Democratic base that has made criminal-justice and sentencing reform a bigger issue, but as both mayor and governor, Kaine enjoyed strong support from African-American voters thanks to his legal record, his membership in a majority-black Catholic parish, and his public apology for Richmond’s role in the slave trade.

The two biggest knocks progressives might make on Kaine are his general support of free-trade agreements and his signature on a letter to federal banking regulators that suggested looser rules on regional financial institutions. Kaine’s office has said in response that he is a “strong supporter” of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed in 2010. He also voted to give the Obama administration “fast-track” authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Clinton has backed away from and Donald Trump is using as a cudgel.

There’s also his stance on reproductive health. As governor, Kaine signed into law the bill that created those “Choose Life” license plates. But as a Catholic of the Joe Biden variety—opposed to abortion personally, not legislatively—Kaine’s record otherwise lines up with Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups.

But vice-presidential nominees are supposed to be attack dogs. Can Tim Kaine get heavy?

Unlike, say Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who seems to love roasting Trump as much as she loves financial regulation, Kaine seems like a nice guy who wouldn’t hurt anyone. But he supposedly has the ability to get rough. “He is really able to fillet you before you realize it, and before you know it, you’re on the grill. And all done with a smile,” David Eichenbaum, a longtime Kaine adviser, told Politico in May.

Still, a Google search for “Tim Kaine sick burns” doesn’t turn up much, so this remains a big question, especially as he goes up against Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who got his start as a conservative talk-radio host and can still work up a righteous cadence.

Seriously. Tell me something interesting about Tim Kaine.

Well, um… Hey! Here’s a video of him playing harmonica with a bluegrass band:

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.