By Hastings Wyman –
There was a time when Democrats often chose a Southerner for their vice-presidential nominee, in part to offset northern liberal presidential nominees, such as Alben Barkley (KY) for Harry Truman in 1948 and John Sparkman (AL) for Adlai Stevenson in 1952. In 1992, the party even chose two Southerners – Bill Clinton and Al Gore – to head its ticket, to reclaim electoral votes in the newly Republican South and carried five states (AR, GA, KY, LA & TN).
But this year, the Democrats have another requirement: They need to nominate a running mate who can help unite their party after Hillary Clinton claims the top spot, following her still-bruising battle with Democratic-Socialist Bernie Sanders.
The news media, in Virginia and nationally, are counting US Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) as one of the short-listers for the number two slot. CNN called Kaine “an early favorite … among major Democratic donors, operatives and congressional Democrats.” They cite his “steady hand” and “moderate profile,” as well as his political and government experience.
This profile would probably help Clinton with independents and Republicans – especially women – disaffected from the GOP by Donald Trump’s nomination. And for those GOPers old enough to care, Kaine is married to Anne Holton, daughter of Republican former Gov. Linwood Holton, who is 92.
Other factors that support the wisdom of a Kaine pick include that Virginia is an important swing state and that he speaks fluent Spanish. Moreover, he has an impressive resume, which includes stints as lieutenant governor, governor and now US Senator. In the Senate, he has served on both the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, giving him valuable experience that would serve a Clinton Administration well. In addition, if Kaine were elected vice-president, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) would appoint another Democrat to take Kaine’s place as senator, thus not threatening the party’s power in the Senate.
Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, points out that since Kaine served as lieutenant governor, he “knows how to be a second banana.” He also notes that Kaine gets along well with the Clintons, observing that Clinton’s vice-president “isn’t going to be fully a vice-president. There’s Bill Clinton.” The White House “will be very crowded.”
Probably the biggest downside for a Kaine nomination is that Clinton needs to pick someone who will appeal to Sanders’ followers. Thus, Kaine has made an effort to publicize his liberal credentials in recent weeks. On CNN earlier this month, Kaine criticized Trump for his proposal to ban Muslim immigrants. He has also called on the Administration to expedite the admission of some 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States.
On May 17, the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregated schools unconstitutional, Kaine took to the Senate floor to imply that Republican opposition to confirming Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, is a response to the president’s race.
On the volatile issue of transgender students’ access to school restrooms and locker rooms, before the Obama Administration’s recent declarations on the subject, Kaine signed a letter, along with 39 other Senate Democrats, to Education Secretary John King: “We applaud and thank the Department of Education, as well as the Department of Justice … for the commitment to equality and work in support of LGBT students,” and called for guidance from the department on the issue. A week later, the Justice and Education departments issued guidance, which essentially requires schools to allow access to bathrooms on the basis of students’ gender identity.
Kaine, a Catholic, is personally opposed to abortion, but supports a woman’s right to choose. Moreover, this month he introduced the “Access to Birth Control Act,” which requires that all pharmacies must fill a valid prescription for birth control or emergency contraception presented by women.
Kaine has also tacked to the left on foreign policy, telling a Senate Armed Services Committee in late April, “I think we have made a complete hash of the – and that’s a diplomatic phrase – of the doctrines of war, both domestic and international.” Although he proclaimed himself a “strong friend and supporter” of President Obama, he added that the United States is “engaged in an incursion into the sovereign nation of Syria without their permission, without their will.”
Kaine’s recent leftward swerve might make him more acceptable to the Sandernistas and other Democrats to Clinton’s left, but the Sanders’ folks don’t want simply a choice with no obvious flaws, but a castle-stormer who can stir them up. It is doubtful Kaine can fit that bill. His voting record in the Senate has been moderate. In the 113th Congress (2013-2015), Sanders was listed in the most liberal category, with a 75% liberal rating, by That’s My Congress; Kaine was in the website’s “Mushy Middle,” with a -8% rating. In the National Journal’s ratings for 2013, Kaine ranked as the 35th most liberal senator, way down the list for a Democrat. (Sanders, however, ranked 37th.)
Other negatives for Kaine include that, as Sabato puts it, “he is a nice guy” and might not be good as an attack dog against Trump. CNN describes Kaine as “a mild-mannered and affable 58-year-old,” and questions whether he could excite the party base. In addition, Clinton is already strong in Virginia, and Kaine might not be needed to keep the state in Clinton’s column.
Nevertheless, in this highly unpredictable year, stranger things have happened than a presidential nominee choosing a vice-presidential candidate who is qualified for the job, as well as qualified to step into the president’s shoes, should that be required. Stay tuned.