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In choosing Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her vice presidential running mate, Hillary Clinton achieves some of what political analysts say she needs to counter her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. Kaine has an unbroken string of local and statewide electoral victories in the swing state of Virginia; has Midwestern roots that could help boost Democrats in battleground states including Ohio and Pennsylvania; and he speaks fluent Spanish, a bonus from his stint helping Jesuit missionaries in Central America.
But Kaine also has been criticized as insufficiently progressive on banking and global trade issues by some in the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, which Clinton needs to energize this fall.
Kaine hasn’t been implicated in any political scandals. It did raise some eyebrows when the Virginia Public Access Project recently compiled his old financial disclosures and found that between 2001 and 2009 he accepted gifts worth more than $160,000 while serving as Virginia’s lieutenant governor and then governor, including a Caribbean vacation, thousands of dollars in clothes and a trip to the Final Four. The gifts didn’t violate Virginia’s relatively loose rules, and Kaine didn’t face any allegations that he showed favoritism to the gift-givers. His spokesperson said the former governor was transparent about the gifts, even disclosing those that fell below the reporting threshold.
Even Virginia’s GOP chairman recently conceded Kaine’s “reputation for integrity,” dinging him instead for his “very sad” choice to ally with Hillary Clinton.
Kaine, a devout Catholic whose faith has sometimes clashed with political realities, spent most of his youth living outside Kansas City. After graduating from the University of Missouri he got his law degree from Harvard and moved with his wife to Richmond, where the majority of his legal work involved civil rights, particularly housing discrimination. He got his start in public life as a city councilman in Richmond, eventually getting elected mayor in 1998.
There, he helped oversee Project Exile — a program that elevated gun offenders into the federal justice system, where sentences are typically longer. The National Rifle Association welcomed the experiment as more effective than restricting access to guns, and at the time it was credited with helping to reduce crime. But the program was also criticized as contributing to the country’s relatively high incarceration rate, increasingly a concern on both sides of the aisle.
Kaine has for the most part rejected policies that would restrict access to abortions, but says he’s personally opposed to them. That stance might create some unease with abortion rights activists who have been working to frame abortions as routine medical procedures, rather than as a practice that should be legal but rare. His personal opposition to the death penalty has created similar awkwardness in a state where voters have been largely in favor of capital punishment.
Some critics saw Kaine’s achievements as governor as undistinguished.
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During his term, a student at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 people on campus, before committing suicide. A commission that examined the incident made a series of recommendations to help prevent similar tragedies, some of which Kaine enacted. He called for more restrictive gun control — putting him in opposition to the NRA, which is based in Virginia — and signed an executive order blocking people who are declared mentally ill or dangerous from purchasing weapons.
Kaine’s next stop was the U.S. Senate, where since 2013 he’s been a relatively reliable vote for the Democrats. During the most recent congressional session, he voted against his party 8.5 percent of the time, just above the 7.2 percent average.
Last year, he again faced questions about the gifts he receives. A reporter discovered that Kaine did not disclose a three-day stay at a Spanish resort paid for by a nonprofit with close ties to a lobbying firm. Kaine called the omission an oversight: “I really am mad at myself and my team,” he said. “I owe you guys a grudging ‘thank you’ for pointing it out.”
Kaine was considered by Barack Obama as a possible running mate in 2008. After Obama picked Joe Biden, the president asked Kaine instead to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Before he was chosen by Clinton, some Democrats maintained that Kaine was too dull. Kaine didn’t dispute it – “I am boring,” he admitted. “But boring is the fastest-growing demographic in this country.”