PHILADELPHIA — Few people expect Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine to steal the show in his first address as the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee on Wednesday night. Kaine’s speech will be important, but he will likely be overshadowed by President Obama, who is delivering the night’s closing speech.
But Kaine was never considered the star of the Democratic National Convention here. Clinton appears to have chosen Kaine as her running mate in large part because of his experience and even demeanor.
While he’s been dubbed the “safe” vice presidential pick, Kaine has never lost an election. The former mayor and governor of Virginia is a formidable speaker in his own right. Here are three things to watch for in his speech on Wednesday:
1. Spotlight on national security
Kaine will likely highlight his membership on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees in an effort to bolster Clinton’s argument that they have the experience to lead the nation in an age of terrorism and instability abroad.
Kaine is one of only a few members of Congress with a child currently serving in the military; his eldest son Nat is an active-duty Marine.
“I have a son who has started a career in the military. I will not do things that will hurt the troops or defense. I will not do things hurting veterans,” Kaine said in a 2012 campaign speech. In 2014, he told a group of veterans, “My son is an infantry officer who takes control of his first platoon Monday so these are issues that matter to me personally.”
The GOP dedicated a majority of its convention last week to painting Clinton as weak on issues like gun rights, the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, religious freedom and foreign policy decisions. Look for Kaine to push back, and argue that Clinton knows much more about safeguarding national security than the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
2. En Español
Kaine made history in 2013 after delivering an almost 13-minute-long speech in Spanish on the Senate floor. The speech was in opposition to the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. He also spoke in Spanish on the campaign trail with Clinton last week in Miami. Kaine will likely deliver some portion of his remarks at the DNC in Spanish as well.
Kaine’s ability to connect with Spanish speakers will be a valuable tool on the campaign trail, said Roger Noriega, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Addressing convention delegates in Spanish would make Hispanic voters around the country “feel welcome” in the Democratic Party. Noriega said. “If Tim Kaine does that it will [energize] Latinos [and] put out the welcome mat for independent Latinos” as well.
Some political observers like Noriega say Kaine’s use of Spanish is an authentic attempt to connect with Spanish-speaking Americans.But some critics have already leveled claims that Clinton and Kaine are “hispandering,” which has put pressure on Kaine to walk a fine line in his DNC speech.
3. Clarity on trade
Kaine recently contradicted previous statements he’s made on trade by announcing that he opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal with Asian countries favored by the Obama administration. Kaine’s reversal puts him squarely in line with Clinton, who supported the deal — which is still awaiting final approval — before coming out against TPP last year.
Trade has become a hot-button issue on the campaign trail this year, with both Democrats and Republicans coming out against new deals. Trump has made his opposition to free trade deals a signature part of his presidential bid.
In Philadelphia, Kaine will likely seek to clarify his position as he looks to shore up support with the Democratic Party’s anti-trade left wing.