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Kaine Choice Is Responsible (Though Light on Pizzazz)

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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By choosing Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate, Hillary Clinton opted for governing credentials over political pizzazz. Kaine, a former governor of his swing state, is an experienced public official and mature moderate who could step into the presidency.

And while Kaine’s home-state popularity may have figured in his selection, he lacks what some party activists say Clinton most needs: excitement and enthusiasm, something that the first female presidential nominee has yet to generate.

Earlier this week, in an interview with PBS' Charlie Rose, she said she was "afflicted with the responsibility gene" in picking a running mate. Kaine is a responsible choice.

He has a lot in common with his Republican counterpart, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana. Both are deeply religious, Kaine a Roman Catholic, Pence an evangelical Christian. Both have been state chief executives and members of Congress. Both have about two decades of political experience under their belts, and both are relatively mild-mannered and temperamentally ill-suited for the role of leading attacks against their opponents. That’s something the principals don’t need much help with, anyway.

The Virginian is respected by Republican and Democratic senators. He got high grades as mayor of Richmond from 1998-2001, presiding over falling crime, and as governor from 2006-2010. He also served briefly as national Democratic chairman.

By Virginia standards he's a progressive, and was once considered too liberal to win statewide. He favors gun control, opposes the death penalty and, in tobacco country, initiated anti-smoking measures.

Left-wing activists have lobbied against his selection. They note his general support of free-trade measures and charge that he hasn’t been hostile enough to Wall Street and big banks.

Bernie Sanders, in an interview with me for Charlie Rose's PBS program a few weeks ago, made it clear that he didn’t think Kaine should be Clinton’s choice. While praising his Virginia colleague as "a very decent guy," he said Clinton's running mate should be "a very strong progressive who has a history of standing up to big money interests." He left no doubt that Kaine didn't meet that standard,

A strong asset Kaine brings to the ticket is fluency in Spanish; he gave the first Senate speech entirely in that language. Democrats are putting exceptional emphasis on turning out Latino voters this autumn, hoping to benefit from Donald Trump’s scornful comments about Mexican immigrants.

Kaine also has been a voice on national security, serving on both the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. He is especially passionate about requiring congressional authorization for military actions, particularly in the war against the Islamic state.

He is a practicing Catholic who took a year off from Harvard Law School to volunteer with Jesuits in Honduras. He's married to Ann Holton, the Virginia Secretary of Education and daughter of Linwood Holton, the first elected Republican governor in Virginia history.

Virginia has lax ethics rules and, as governor, Kaine accepted some free trips and gifts from wealthy benefactors. His successor, Bob McDonnell, a Republican, was convicted for taking lavish gifts amid charges of quid-pro-quo arrangements. The conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in a case that turned on subtle differences between corruption and legal influence peddling.

Trump undoubtedly will seize on this and try to paint Kaine as crooked. But any parallel to McDonnell is flawed; there was no suggestion of any quid pro quo in Governor Kaine's case. Republicans and Democrats have both praised Kaine's integrity.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net