A sunny, shiny, marble corridor of the Russell Senate Office Building leads to Room 231, where a picture of Tim Kaine hangs next to the door.
Two staffers sit inside the outer office, peering into computers. In front of a small fireplace are two wingback chairs. Displayed on one wall is a large, framed “Travellers Pocket Map of Virginia,” circa 1830.
There’s plenty of history in the office. A year ago, it belonged to longtime senator, one-time presidential candidate and Vietnam prisoner of war John McCain, who moved down the hall.
And there’s a fairly good chance that Kaine’s new Washington office may be a historic touchstone in another way. Kaine is favored as a possible selection by Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton for vice president.
The buzz reached maximum velocity last week, leading up to Republican rival Donald Trump’s announced running-mate pick of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Friday, July 15. Clinton was expected to make her decision known after this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Kaine’s prospects seem good. He has more experience compared with his contenders — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro. Kaine served as Richmond city councilman and mayor, Virginia lieutenant governor and governor, and now senator.
An added plus for the Democratic Party, of which Kaine once served as chairman, is that picking him won’t worsen its underdog position in the Senate, which has 54 Republicans, 45 Democrats and one independent, Bernie Sanders.
Warren has more national exposure as an outspoken progressive, but if she’s picked as a vice-presidential contender, the Democrats will be giving a Senate seat away because Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, will select her replacement. With Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s chair, losing Kaine’s seat isn’t a risk.
“I think Tim Kaine would be a very good choice for Hillary Clinton,” says Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “He has a great deal of experience, including foreign experience. Add to that, Virginia’s a swing state and Kaine has a record of moderate politics.”
“He’s viewed as able and thoughtful,” says Joe K. Goldstein, an expert on vice-presidential politics at the St. Louis University Law School. “He was runner-up to Joe Biden in 2008 and he’s served as party chairman. Only Sen. [Sherrod] Brown has more experience.” Brown is seen as another possible vice-presidential choice.
Kaine, who declined to be interviewed for this story by Style, has been decidedly self-effacing and low-key since the chatter grew louder about his prospects in the 2016 presidential race. He went so far as to describe himself as “boring” to Chuck Todd, host of the NBC Sunday news show “Meet the Press.”
But Kaine doesn’t need to do much to win national media attention. On July 5, when he visited the Virginia Department of Health for a roundtable talk on the zika virus epidemic, he was trailed by national networks and reporters from such Washington outlets as Roll Call.
On a less positive note, Kaine took hits when Politico ran a story highlighting his acceptance of $160,000 in gifts, including a Caribbean holiday valued at $18,000 when he was a state official. Virginia’s ethics laws are notoriously lax and Kaine disclosed the items, but the report came out just as the U.S. Supreme Court was to vacate corruption charges against the former Republican Virginia governor Bob McDonnell.
All the while, Kaine projects his signature smile, laid-back manner and sharp mind that wins him friends and builds bipartisan bridges. He’s also seen as a devout Roman Catholic and a man with great compassion.
Such traits are in marked contrast to Clinton, who’s tried to shake her reputation for being cold and been criticized for her harsh speaking style, and to Donald Trump, regarded as one of the most polarizing, bombastic figures in American politics.
Consider the difference in how Trump and Kaine reacted to two separate mass shootings.
On June 12, when a gunman armed with an assault weapon shot and killed 49 patrons of a bar in Orlando, Florida, Trump sent out a Tweet congratulating himself for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” His comment was widely criticized, although Trump has moderated his statements on other shootings.
On April 16, 2007, when a similarly armed shooter prowled from classroom to classroom at Virginia Tech, gunning down students and killing 32 people, Kaine, then governor, was on a business trip to Japan.
His staff woke him in the middle of the night and he immediately arranged to fly back to Virginia, although he had landed in Japan only five hours before.
After returning, he addressed the Tech student body without notes, despite being badly jet-lagged. “You can go beyond grief to isolation and feeling despair,” he said. “Those haunting words that were uttered on a hill on Calvary: ‘My God, my God why has Thou forsaken me?” Kaine reassured his listeners, saying that their community was strong enough to pull them through.
Kaine’s faith runs deep. He was born in 1958 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and raised as a Roman Catholic. His Scots-Irish family moved to Kansas City, where his father owned a small iron-working shop.
He graduated from Rockhurst High School, a private school for boys run by the Jesuits, a Catholic order known for its discipline and academic strength. Next came the University of Missouri, where Kaine was awarded a degree in economics in 1979, followed by Harvard University Law School.
He skipped a year at Harvard to go to Honduras as part of a Jesuit mission to help the poor. Doing so made him fluent in Spanish and gave him an understanding of Central American politics and economics. Later, he became one of the rare non-Latinos to address Congress in Spanish.
That same sense of moral conscience was evident recently in Richmond, when he led the discussion on the zika virus that’s plagued Latin America. The virus, spread through mosquitoes or unprotected sex, can slow the brain development of unborn children, causing deformities.
Kaine said preparing in the United States is extremely important although few cases have been reported here. About $1 billion is needed, he said, but appropriation is caught between the Senate, which wants to do something now, and the House of Representatives, which wants to cut the federal budget somewhere else first. “Let’s do it as fast as we can and as smart as we can,” he said.
He also praised Pope Francis, a Jesuit, for coming to grips with zika. Although as a Catholic, Kaine opposes abortion and the death penalty, he’s done nothing in his public life to go beyond the law on those two issues. He said that “even Pope Francis,” seen as a progressive reformer, says that advocating the use of condoms should be considered to stem the epidemic.
Kaine came to Richmond because of a woman. At Harvard, he met Anne Holton, a Roanoke native who happened to be the daughter of former Virginia Gov. A. Linwood Holton.
Holton was a moderate Republican and critic of the powerful Democratic political organization created by Harry F. Byrd. And he made national headlines in 1970 when he led another daughter, Tayloe, to an all-black Richmond school to show his support for racial integration.
Anne and Tim married and settled in Richmond, where he practiced law for 17 years. True to his sense of social commitment, his specialty was protecting the rights of people who were discriminated against in obtaining housing because of their race or disabilities. He also taught legal ethics at the University of Richmond law school.
He and his wife have three children and have lived in the same North Side home for 30 years.
In 1994, Kaine was elected to Richmond City Council, which started his political career. At the time, Richmond political analyst Bob Holsworth says, City Council was badly split along racial lines. Kaine helped remedy that.
“With Kaine, the votes seemed less predictable and less based on race,” Holsworth says. He adds that Kaine made a mistake in helping push out then-city manager Robert Bobb, a veteran black municipal expert who later became city manager in Washington.
As a councilman, Kaine made a series of contacts with other bright up-and-comers in the city. He was part of an informal group of lawyers that got together on each other’s porches for evening bull sessions about issues confronting the city, such as education, crime and health.
“We would meet and talk,” says Heidi Abbott, a longtime Kaine friend and supporter, who is a lawyer at the downtown firm Hunton & Williams.
Kaine is an “extraordinary” man who has “an inner core that is so solid and never changes,” she says. “He’s one of the smartest people I know and he’s able to communicate on very, very complex issues and break down complex questions.”
Kaine was elected mayor in 1998, though at the time, council members picked the mayor from among their ranks. It became the first of his two terms.
Crime was a major problem, and Richmond was seeing the highest per capita murder rates in the country. Kaine supported Project Exile, which moved trials for violent crimes to tougher federal courts and brought automatic prison time for people who committed crimes with guns. The city’s murder rate dropped 55 percent, and Kaine won praise from presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, along with the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
He left the mayor’s office to run for lieutenant governor, and won with a slight edge over Republican Jay Katzen. The experience taught Kaine to work as a second-in-command, serving under Gov. Mark Warner.
It also set Kaine up to run for governor, as he did in 2005, easily beating Republican Jerry W. Kilgore. Surprisingly, Kaine took Republican strongholds in Hampton Roads, such as Virginia Beach, and Loudoun County in Northern Virginia
As governor, Kaine believed that lowering the state’s high infant mortality rates was a key issue. On another health concern, he banned smoking in state office buildings. At the zika conference, he remarked that he “was proud that the Department of Health was the first state agency to do so.”
The move was politically risky because cigarette maker Philip Morris USA and its parent firm, Altria, give thousands of dollars to state politicians, making it no surprise that Virginia has among the lowest state taxes on cigarettes.
Other measures included banning handguns in state office buildings, protecting land from development and making preschool more accessible to 4-year-olds in troubled homes.
“He was a very competent governor and addressed tough fiscal problems,” Holsworth says. One loss, he says, was a tax authority deal that Kaine worked out with then-attorney general McDonnell, which would have provided more money for transportation. Conservatives took it to the state Supreme Court, where it was shot down.
As a state official, Kaine ran up a list of gifts he accepted from politicians. Records show that they total $160,000, about $15,000 shy of the amount of loans, trips, cash and jewelry that vitamin salesman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave to McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and family. McDonnell’s conviction for federal corruption charges was recently vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court, but he could be tried again.
After Politico revived the story about Kaine’s gifts, his office released this statement: “During his eight years as lieutenant governor and governor, Sen. Kaine went beyond the requirements of Virginia law, even publicly disclosing gifts of value beneath the reporting threshold. He’s confident that he met both the letter and the spirit of Virginia’s ethical standards.”
Spokeswoman Amy Dudley adds: “All disclosure information -- the vast majority of which was for work-related travel expenses rather than gifts -- has been publicly available for years and never once raised any concerns of impropriety.”
Among the goodies was a weeklong vacation in 2005 worth $18,000 at a luxury home on the West Indian island of Mustique. The house was owned by Charlottesville investor James B. Murray Jr., who once was rector of the College of William and Mary and has served on a state higher education council. The gift situation has been widely reported for years and has been a topic in political debates over Virginia ethics rules.
In 2003 and 2005, Kaine accepted $5,500 worth of clothes from Stuart C. Siegel, a men’s clothier and Kaine supporter, according to Politico and the Virginia Public Access Project reports.
Among other gifts was travel worth $2,000 from the powerful utility Dominion, for trips to governors meetings and to an NCAA Final Four basketball game. Others who gave gifts were Teva Pharmaceuticals, BET co-founder Sheila C. Johnson and ADR software chief executive E. Scott Kasprowicz.
Kaine’s federal career was abortive at first. In 2008, he was rumored to be a top pick for vice president with Barack Obama. But that year, a newly aggressive Russia attacked the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Russia claimed it was helping two Georgia provinces with large Russian populations.
Most of the drama occurred that summer, with diplomats scrambling to broker a working cease-fire. It became apparent that other than Kaine’s missionary work in Honduras, he had little foreign policy experience. Veteran Sen. Joe Biden was chosen instead for Obama’s No. 2 position.
As something of a consolation prize, Kaine became chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2009, where he broadened his political contacts before leaving in 2011.
The next year, Kaine ran for Senate after Democrat Jim Webb decided not to seek re-election. He beat former Republican Gov. George Allen, whose campaign faltered after he was videotaped seemingly mocking a dark-skinned cameraman.
Analyst Holsworth says that Kaine settled right into the Senate job while his Democratic colleague, Warner, had a rougher time.
In the Senate, Kaine shored up his foreign affairs portfolio by serving on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, as well the Committee on the Budget. From those berths he advocated bringing troops home from Afghanistan, something that brought GOP criticism.
But he joined McCain and bucked President Obama by insisting that Congress give its approval before military operations be carried out against the Islamic State in places such as war-torn Syria. Working the issue for five months, Kaine got the Senate Foreign Relations Commission to authorize limited military operations against ISIS but no ground troops.
“One thing about his record is that he takes a very constitutional approach to policy to the extent that Tim Kaine is trying to promote more consensus,” analyst Farnsworth says.
Some critics have suggested that Kaine’s record in the Senate is actually rather thin, although some analysts note that he’s been in there for only three or so years, too short a time for signature legislation. “You wouldn’t expect a lot form someone who’s been in the Senate less than four years,” Goldstein says.
Among Kaine’s pluses as a possible vice-presidential candidate is that he’s a respected, principled moderate who won’t want to steal Clinton’s thunder. He’s worked in both the No. 1 and 2 slots so he knows how to play it. His language ability could help attract Hispanics and show a huge contrast with Trump’s plans to round up 11 million undocumented aliens and build a border wall with Mexico at that country’s expense.
A big question is whether Kaine comes across as too mild of a personality, and that Clinton might choose him because he’s inoffensive. If the choice is Warren, Clinton has a better chance at attracting voters who favored socialist Bernie Sanders.
The choice of Kaine could come down to this, Goldstein says: “He’s a well-respected member of the Senate. People would view him as a plausible president. That’s really the question now. Beyond that, he’s from an important state.” S
Editor's note: This story represents a clarification from the print version, in that the issue of gifts has been widely reported on and debated, though not perhaps directly in Kaine's campaign for senate against former Gov. George Allen.