U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine made a triumphant return to Richmond, a smiling hometown hero as the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee. He was greeted with the roars of a supportive crowd Monday at Huguenot High School, where he declared: “I’m so proud of my city.”
Two weeks after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton named him her running mate, Sen. Kaine appears comfortable and confident in the national spotlight.
However, the former Richmond mayor and ex-Virginia governor acknowledges he’s still getting used to the quirks of being elevated to another level in the political universe. For one thing, the 58-year-old said he was surprised to find himself “described as the dorky dad” in the deluge of Twitter comments last week when he accepted the party’s vice presidential nomination.
“That’s different,” he said from any of his past experiences on the campaign trail.
And as recognizable as he is already, it has become far harder for him and wife Anne Holton to move around without attracting notice.
When he ran for Richmond and statewide offices, Sen. Kaine and Ms. Holton (the daughter of a former Virginia Republican governor, a former legal aid lawyer, a former juvenile court judge, a former Virginia first lady and former state secretary of education) used to be able to breeze almost unnoticed into their Laburnum Park neighborhood in North Side.
Now they’re learning to live with a detail of Secret Service agents and Black government SUVs conspicuously parked outside the house on Confederate Avenue where they’ve lived for 32 years, though the couple rarely expects to be there during the next 90-plus days of this whirlwind campaign.
It has been an adjustment, Sen. Kaine said in an interview with the Free Press following a celebratory homecoming rally at Huguenot High School, where at least 3,500 prospective voters turned out to hear him.
“I don’t think she will mind me telling you that she burst into tears when we got home last night,” Sen. Kaine said of his wife. “Maybe it was exhaustion and everything that has been going on, but she also was concerned about the impact we’re having on our neighbors. They’re telling me they don’t mind. One neighbor told me, ‘We now live on the safest street Richmond.’ “
Sen. Kaine gives his wife, Anne Holton, a kiss in response to her glowing introduction at Monday’s rally.
In an optimistic and upbeat nearly hour long speech interrupted often by the cheers of the crowd, Sen. Kaine stressed the importance of Virginia in the race—a key reason many observers believe he is on the ticket, to ensure that Mrs. Clinton can win what is now a crucial swing state.
Until President Obama won the state with then-Gov. Kaine’s help in 2008 (the first Democrat to do so in 44 years), the state was so reliably Republican in presidential elections that Democrats wrote it off, he said.
“Let’s face it, we didn’t really have to do our best work” before the Obama era, Sen. Kaine said. “We’ve come out of the shadows, we’re on the main stage, the spotlight’s on us, the pressure’s on us to do the best work!”
For if the Clinton-Kaine ticket wins Virginia, he said, “we won’t have to stay up and see whether there’s a hanging chad in Florida or a weird voting booth in Ohio” because Mrs. Clinton will be president, he told the crowd. That’s how important this state is, he said.
Sen. Kaine was completely at ease, surrounded by many of the people he has known from church, politics and the legal arena, familiar faces eager to cheer and applaud a hometown hero—and the first Richmond resident ever to be nominated for vice president.
“It’s great to be home,” he told the 2,500 people who packed the school’s gym and the more than 1,000 others who filled overflow space. “What an amazing thing to come back after 10 intense days on the road, to come back to the Richmond Public Schools where all of our kids graduated to see so many wonderful friends.”
Supporters in the majority-White crowd waved ‘America’s Dad’ signs and cheered “Yes we Kaine.”
During his address, he teared up talking about his spouse, who sat on a stool on stage. Holton resigned as state education secretary when Sen. Kaine got the call from Mrs. Clinton at 7:32 pm, July 22 “not that I’m counting,” he said as the audience laughed.
He said their careers took parallel tracks—a potentially influential message in an election featuring the nation’s first woman presidential nominee of a major political party.
“Women again and again and again provide support for men to do great things in politics,” Sen. Kaine said. “This election gives men a chance to stand up and support strong women.”
Returning from a post convention, weekend campaign swing with her husband through Ohio and Pennsylvania, Ms. Holton said as she introduced her husband: “I know he’s going to be a great partner to Secretary Clinton because he’s been such a great partner to me.”
The bulk of Sen. Kaine’s speech reprised remarks he has made since joining Mrs. Clinton as her running mate—praise for Mrs. Clinton and salutes to her vision for the country, coupled with stiff attacks on Republican candidate Donald J. Trump as a trash talker unfit for the nation’s highest office.
“We want a ‘you’re hired’ president. We don’t want a ‘you’re fired’ president,” he said, referring to the celebrated line Trump delivered on his reality TV show, The Apprentice.
Sen. Kaine also drew a laugh as he recalled Trump’s biggest slam against him after being nominated was that “Tim Kaine was a lousy governor of New Jersey.”
“Wait a minute. I’ve never been governor of New Jersey,” he said, referring to Trump’s public mix-up believing Clinton had chosen former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean. Trump later corrected it. However, Sen. Kaine packed the most emotional wallop when he paid tribute to Richmond and its people, who he has come to know since he arrived with Holton in 1984. “How do I sum up and then give thanks for 32 years of friendship in RVA, in this community? Very, very hard.”
For more than 20 minutes, he took a personal verbal detour from the campaign to speak of how he has grown from “an incredibly naïve member of City Council” to a seasoned politician.
Sen. Kaine, who has spent most of the past 22 years in public office, beginning with his initial election to Richmond City Council in 1994 that he won in a squeaker, told the crowd: “what I know about public service, you have taught me.”
Born in Minnesota and raised in Kansas City, Mo., he said he “grew up in a very, very nonpolitical household. Politics was something in the newspaper, like Hollywood and baseball. We never knew anybody who did that. So everything I know, everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from you.
“You taught me it’s about results, not about talk,” he said. “It’s about being accessible. It’s about trying to make things happen.” He talked about the people he and his wife have worshipped with at St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church, the small, mostly African American parish in Highland Park where he and his wife were married and their children were baptized.
“Every time we interact with somebody, we come to know something about the greater good and greater power in the world. And I learned that through these wonderful parishioners and through my neighbors, and then in my civil rights practice of 17 years, through my clients and through the lawyers I worked with, and through the lawyers on the other side of the cases.”
Among the things, he said learned: “We’ve got to have the right leadership in this country.”
He said the challenge ahead is to win.
“We have a great candidate who’s going to be a great president, and Virginia is right at the center of this thing,” he said.
He challenged his listeners to go out “and pound the pavement and fight for our values” and carry the ticket to victory.