PHILADELPHIA — Tim Kaine introduced himself to the American people on Wednesday night, accepting his place on the Democratic ticket and firing his first prime-time shots at its foe.
A politician unaccustomed to the glare of the national spotlight stepped squarely into it Wednesday night to “humbly accept” the vice presidential nomination at Democratic National Convention.
Kaine, the junior senator from Virginia, wove personal tales of his upbringing with scathing criticism of Republican nominee Donald Trump and declared Hillary Clinton “ready to fight, ready to win, ready to lead.”
For Kaine, it was the speech of lifetime. Once a mayor, then a governor, he also delivered remarks to the Democratic conventions in 2008 and 2012. But Wednesday was his prime time debut, and most Americans had never seen him speak for an extended period like this.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he told a full crowd at he Wells Fargo Center. “I never expected to be here. But let me tell you how it happened.”
Kaine aimed for three targets. First, to make his first impression on wider public who isn’t aware of his background. Second, to shore up his progressive credentials at a convention that has seen mass unrest from some supporters of Bernie Sanders. And third, to draw a deep contrast between his running mate and Donald Trump.
Kaine has been knocked in the past for not being the most electrifying of speakers, and critics doubted whether he had the fire inside to unleash continuous critiques on Donald Trump in an attack dog role a vice presidential candidate traditionally takes on.
But he tried to channel Trump on Wednesday night in offering an impression of the real estate mogul’s consistent promises to “believe” him.
“It’s gonna be great — believe me!” Kaine quipped in a section that got one of the strongest reactions from the crowd. “We’re gonna build a wall and make Mexico pay for it — believe me! We’re gonna destroy ISIS so fast — believe me! There’s nothing suspicious in my tax returns — believe me!
“By the way, does anyone here believe that Donald Trump’s been paying his fair share of taxes? Do you believe he ought to release those tax returns like every other presidential candidate in modern history? Of course he should. Donald, what are you hiding?”
It was a continuation of Kaine’s comfort in taking swipes at the Republican nominee, as Wednesday morning he referred to Trump at a Virginia delegation breakfast as “a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to the alliances that we have with other nations.”
Some progressive groups have displayed disappointment in Clinton’s choice of Kaine, whose past has been repeatedly referred to as “moderate.” Many members of the audience held up signs protesting the TPP while Kaine spoke.
But in his speech, Kaine went off-script after he got a rousing reaction of “Bernie!” cheers by mentioning his time serving on the Senate Budget Committee with Sanders. “We should all ‘feel the Bern’ and not get burned by the other guy!” he shouted.
Kaine also aimed to highlight his past as a civil rights attorney who worked to defend individuals involved in housing discrimination cases. “I took on banks and landlords, real estate firms and local governments, anyone who treated people unfairly — like the insurance company that was discriminating against minority neighborhoods all across America in issuing homeowners’ insurance,” he said.
In recounting his life story for the audience, Kaine reminded them of the civil rights past of his father-in-law, former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton, and how he sees the Republican Party has shifted. “Anne’s parents, Lin and Jinks, are here today, 90-plus and going strong,” Kaine said. “Lin’s still a Republican. But he’s voting for a lot of Democrats these days. Because any party that would nominate Donald Trump for president has moved too far away from his party of Lincoln. And if any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we’ve got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party.”
The senator also invoked his son Nat, who serves in the Marines, and who deployed on Monday to serve overseas in Europe. “As he’s serving our nation abroad,” Kaine said, “I trust Hillary Clinton with our son’s life.”
Kaine has been railing against Trump for several days now for questioning the role that America must play in defending NATO allies, and upped that critique Wednesday night in reminding the crowd that his family has a very personal stake in how Trump refers to the nation’s armed forces. Earlier Wednesday, he noted his son left “to go serve right on the front line and in the countries in NATO that Trump is suggesting he wants to throw overboard and just leave to the mercies of the big, bad wolf Russian Vladimir Putin.”
Since getting the call Friday evening while he was fundraising in Newport, Rhode Island, Kaine has been continually gushing about how “humbled” he is a this opportunity. “If you had told me, or if you had told my parents who are 81 and with me this week, that I was gonna be here in July of 2016, they would not have believe it,” Kaine told delegates from Iowa at breakfast Wednesday morning.
“None of us would have believed it.”