Clinton goes safe and steady with VP pick of Tim Kaine

Hillary Clinton fist bumps Sen. Tim Kaine at a rally on July 14. On Friday, the Democratic presidential nominee announced Kaine as her running mate.
Hillary Clinton fist bumps Sen. Tim Kaine at a rally on July 14. On Friday, the Democratic presidential nominee announced Kaine as her running mate. Associated Press

In this most unconventional of presidential campaigns, both vice presidential picks ended up being rather conventional.

Republican Donald Trump chose Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, a “safe” selection, at least among the choices he had after so many big names fled the scene.

Friday, Democrat Hillary Clinton also announced a sensible, if uninspiring, pick Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

A former governor who was on Barack Obama’s short list for VP in 2008, he’s competent, has national security credentials and is basically scandal-free, as far as we know. Though some more liberal Democrats are not pleased, Kaine, 58, will appeal to moderates and as a bonus, he’s fluent in Spanish, which he learned as a Catholic missionary in Honduras.

Still, when Trump is casting this election as his change vs. Clinton’s status quo, Kaine is squarely part of the Democratic establishment.

While it might have been politically riskier – and we don’t know what the vetting uncovered on others reportedly on her short list – Clinton could have been bolder.

She could have put the first Latino on a major party ticket. After the nation’s first black president, she had a chance to pave the way for the first black vice president. She also could have given voters the first all-female ticket, and appealed more to Bernie Sanders backers, by choosing Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

But the fiery Warren might have frightened independents or upstaged Clinton on the campaign trail. There’s little danger of that with the soft-spoken Kaine. He and Clinton plan their first joint appearance as running mates Saturday in Florida, a key swing state in November.

With Pence also on the boring side, the vice presidential debate Oct. 4 in Virginia may be substantive; it isn’t likely to be scintillating.

Just as Trump and Pence will have to paper over some differences on the issues, so will Clinton and Kaine. He supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she now opposes and which Trump is railing against. As a Catholic, he is not as solidly pro-choice on abortion, having supported parental consent.

Clinton and her team made a political calculation that Kaine will give them the surest path to victory. But she could use a surge of new voters – Latinos, blacks, young people – to win in November.

Now, the election will squarely focus on the top of the ticket, as it should. Voters will have a stark choice in experience, temperament and policies in what’s shaping up to be the costliest, nastiest race in memory.

After Trump’s dark, angry, screaming job interview for dictator in his acceptance speech Thursday night, Clinton has a huge opportunity. She can, and should, offer a more hopeful and inclusive vision for America’s future – a vision much closer to our ideals.

She started that task at a rally in Florida responding to Trump. Next week, she’ll have the nation’s full attention at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia to make her case.

“We will choose to be stronger together. That’s what I’m counting on,” Clinton said Friday. Kaine’s job will be to help make sure that happens.