MIAMI (AFP) - Tim Kaine made a big splash Saturday (July 23) in his first appearance as Hillary Clinton’s running mate for the White House, savaging Donald Trump’s foreign policy ideas as dangerous and wowing a Miami crowd with fluent Spanish.
Kaine, a 58-year-old senator from the battleground state of Virginia, won many a cheer and laugh and frequent applause as he addressed a campaign rally one day after being tapped for the Democratic ticket.
Clinton beamed as she sat behind Kaine during his rousing and well-delivered speech, after introducing the political veteran as the antithesis of the Republican ticket of Trump and Mike Pence.
If Trump is often criticised as an egotistical blowhard, Kaine came across as an agile, knowledgeable and self-deprecating speaker.
Kaine slammed recent comments by Trump to the effect that if Russia were to attack the Baltics, he as president would come to the nations’ aid only after assessing whether they “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”
“Folks, that’s an open invitation to Vladimir Putin to roll on in,” said Kaine, an experienced foreign policy hand who serves on both the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.
He dazzled the crowd right off the bat by greeting them in very good Spanish – “bienvenidos a todos,” or welcome to all – saying that his values were “fe, familia y trabajo.” That means faith, family and work.
The former mayor and governor praised Clinton as sharing his commitment to public service and said, again in Spanish, “we will be soul mates in the big battle to come.” But even as the party basked in this seeming love fest, a whiff of scandal likely to rattle party unity emerged.
A cache of leaked e-mails from Democratic party leaders’ accounts includes at least two messages suggesting an insider effort to hobble Bernie Sanders’ upstart campaign – including by seeking to present him as an atheist to undermine him in highly-religious states.
Trump pounced on the leaks as he tries to scoop up disaffected voters who feel Sanders – a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont initially dismissed as a fringe candidate – was denied a fair shot at the nomination by the political establishment.
“Leaked e-mails of DNC show plans to destroy Bernie Sanders. Mock his heritage and much more. On-line from Wikileakes, really vicious. RIGGED,” the bombastic real estate developer tweeted on Saturday.
Neither the DNC nor Sanders’ camp have responded publicly to the leaks.
Sanders waged a feisty yearlong battle against Clinton in the Democratic primaries. She clinched enough delegates to secure the nomination in early June, but Sanders did not concede defeat and endorse her until July 12.
The former first lady tapped Kaine late on Friday in what was widely seen as a safe but wise choice: the popular senator can help her lock in the swing state of Virginia and ticks a lot of boxes beyond that.
In addition to his fluency on national security issues – shaping up as key in the 2016 race – his strong Spanish is seen as a major asset in cementing Clinton’s heavy lead with Hispanic voters.
With working-class roots and a spotless track record, Kaine is also seen as helping Clinton garner support among independent male voters.
“He is the one!” gushed Helen Bhagwandin, a 60-year-old, retired professor, as she left the Miami rally.
“He is just the most experienced and best prepared person to do this job. What more do we need.”
Not everyone is happy about Clinton’s choice of a center-left running mate, which runs the risk of alienating Sanders supporters on the party’s far left.
But major labour and pro-Democratic groups praised the Kaine pick, including Planned Parenthood, AFL-CIO and other big unions, and the Sierra Club.
The Democratic Party sent out a fund-raising appeal signed by US President Barack Obama, calling Kaine an “optimist” and “progressive fighter.”
“He’s the son of a teacher and an iron worker who’s always got working families on his mind,” the letter said.
Kaine also has strong ties to the African-American community, dating back to his work as a civil rights lawyer.
He and Clinton officially joined forces ahead of the Democratic National Convention which kicks off Monday in Philadelphia, where they will be elevated as the official nominees to the party’s presidential ticket.
Clinton, 68, had said she wanted a running mate with enough experience to “literally get up one day and be the president of the United States.” Nationwide polls suggest Trump and Clinton are running almost neck and neck.
The New York billionaire painted a dark picture of an America mired in poverty and violence as he accepted his party’s nomination Thursday night, promising to restore law and order, clamp down on immigration and put America first.