Sen. Tim Kaine hit the campaign trail for the first time Saturday as the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee, trashing Republican Donald Trump and vowing that he and Hillary Clinton will pursue a “strong, progressive agenda” in the White House.
At a campaign rally in south Florida, Mr. Kaine, 58, spent much of the speech introducing himself to voters, but he also took direct shots at Mr. Trump, showing a fiery streak and a willingness to duke it out with the GOP ticket. The Miami event comes two days before Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Kaine are expected to formally accept their respective nominations at the party convention in Philadelphia.
In his lengthy speech, Mr. Kaine touted his record as the former mayor of Richmond, governor of Virginia and as a civil rights attorney, brandishing his progressive credentials and seeking to put to rest the doubts many liberals have about him while also firing his opening shots at his Republican opponents.
“When Donald Trump says he has your back, you better watch out. From Atlantic City to his so-called university, he leaves a trail of broken promises and wrecked lives wherever he goes,” Mr. Kaine said in a speech at Florida International University. “We can’t afford to let him do the same thing to our country, and folks, we don’t have to, because Hillary Clinton is the direct opposite of Donald Trump.”
Mr. Kaine seemed at ease on stage alongside Mrs. Clinton, alternating between attacks on Mr. Trump and his No. 2, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and recounting his life story to voters. A Missouri native and former Jesuit missionary in Honduras, Mr. Kaine, who also speaks fluent Spanish, surely will be an asset in his battleground state of Virginia, where he remains popular and has never lost an election.
“Sen. Tim Kaine is everything Donald Trump and Mike Pence are not,” Mrs. Clinton said as she introduced her running mate. “Tim is so qualified to be vice president and, as I have said many times, the most important qualification when you are trying to make this really big choice is can this person step in to be president? Well, at every stage of Tim’s career, the people who know him best have voted to him a promotion, and that’s because he fights for the people he represents and he delivers real results.”
The senator ran through a laundry list of agenda items that he and Mrs. Clinton will fight for in the White House, ranging from equal pay for women, a hike in the minimum wage, debt-free college for all Americans and comprehensive immigration reform.
“Anybody who loves America deserves to be here,” he said in Spanish while addressing immigration.
On gun control, Mr. Kaine — who was serving as Virginia’s governor during the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech — also said he’s ready and willing to go to battle with the National Rifle Association and fight for new gun-control measures.
“Hillary and I will not rest, we will not rest, until we get universal background checks and close loopholes that put guns in the hands of criminals, terrorists and dangerous people who should not have them,” Mr. Kaine said.
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the senator also brings the kind of foreign policy experience Mrs. Clinton clearly wanted in a running mate. Mr. Kaine also blasted Mr. Trump’s recent comments on key foreign policy matters, including the questions the Republican has raised about America’s future role in NATO.
“Just this week, Donald Trump said that as president he’d consider turning America’s back on our decades-old commitment to our allies,” he said. “And all of you remember a few months ago when he said … John McCain wasn’t a hero because he had been captured and served as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. And he wants to be commander in chief?”
While Mr. Kaine clearly brings a wealth of political experience, Republicans will try to turn that experience against him. Mr. Trump on Saturday called Mr. Kaine “a career politician.” The fact that the senator has been in elected office since 1994 could help Republicans make their case that the Democratic ticket is comprised of political insiders at a time when voters want change.
The selection of Mr. Kaine also is causing alarm among liberals who doubt his commitment to Wall Street regulation, among other things. Just this week, the senator signed a bipartisan letter calling on the Obama administration to relax some provisions in the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform package.
Mr. Kaine also has previously supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that Mrs. Clinton and most progressives deeply oppose. While he’s reportedly told Mrs. Clinton privately that he opposes the deal in its current form, liberal leaders believe his positions raise serious questions.
“Donald Trump is the most dangerous candidate in the history of our country and that’s why we’re working as hard as we can to unite the political revolution with the Democratic Party establishment to defeat him,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the liberal PAC Democracy for America. “Secretary Clinton’s choice of Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate doesn’t change that goal, but Kaine’s support for fast-track authority for the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership and recent backing of bank deregulation will make our work more difficult.”
Mr. Trump also pointed out Mr. Kaine’s past positions on TPP as he tries to drive a wedge between factions in the Democratic Party and possibly attract disillusioned progressives who previously backed Sen. Bernard Sanders.
“Tim Kaine has been praising the Trans Pacific Partnership and has been pushing hard to get it approved. Job killer!” Mr. Trump tweeted Saturday.
Perhaps realizing he has work to do to persuade liberals of his commitment to a progressive agenda, Mr. Kaine directly addressed many of the issues deeply important to those on the political left.
“We are going to make the American economy work for everybody, not just those at the top,” he said. “And we’ll do that by making the largest investment in good paying jobs since World War II. We will make college debt free for everybody. We’ll rewrite the rules so that companies are their profits with workers rather than ship jobs overseas. And we’ll make sure corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.”