LAS VEGAS — Tim Kaine may not have wowed America in his biggest moment on the national stage, the vice presidential debate, but Democrats aren’t regretting Hillary Clinton’s choice for running mate. He’s been a hit on the donor circuit that’s fueling the campaign and an effective emissary to Republicans disenchanted with their party’s nominee.
Kaine received some criticism for his aggressive style in Tuesday’s debate, where he constantly interrupted Republican rival Mike Pence. But that’s not the Kaine that attendees at his campaign rallies and fundraisers see: a down-to-earth, policy wonk who is a good listener and a persuasive speaker.
Paul Gray, a Chicago art dealer and Democratic fundraiser, has hosted events for Clinton, President Barack Obama and others and has seen many candidates speak to his friends. He hosted Kaine in September. “I don’t think any of them were more able to articulate the progressive point of view that we believe in than he can,” he said.
Kaine can’t fill rallies or attract news coverage like some of Clinton’s other surrogates, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders or first lady Michelle Obama, but his appearances draw local coverage that is critical as voter registration and early voting deadlines loom in swing states. Fluent in Spanish, he also does outreach on Spanish-language media.
And he keeps up a steady clip of fundraising. So far, Kaine has raised at least $25 million at private fundraisers, including five $1 million-plus days. In total, he’s attended more than 70 fundraisers since joining the ticket in July. On a single day in September, he raised at least $3.6 million doing four events in New York, according to an Associated Press analysis of information provided by the campaign.
It’s a role he knows well, having helped build a national network as the head of the Democratic National Committee. But that can run counter to the folksy senator’s anti-elitist bent.
The Harvard-trained attorney and former governor eschewed a life of wealth in favor of a more modest middle-class lifestyle, and Kaine often bemoans the outsized influence the wealthy have on politics. Kaine said he’d like to see “dramatic” reforms to America’s campaign finance laws, but he says he’s not going to disarm “unilaterally.”
The donors Kaine meets with in private say he brings an authenticity to his work that seems lacking in politics today. They describe a candidate who pays attention to each individual and focuses heavily on policy and personal anecdotes in his remarks.
Kaine is good at donor maintenance, too. Gray, the Chicago art dealer, said Kaine tried calling him three times after the fundraiser, eventually reaching him Thursday, to thank him.
And it’s not just Democrats whom Kaine can charm. He’s helped bridge the divide between Clinton and Republicans of the “Never Trump” variety who are skeptical of the Democratic nominee.
One is Jillian Manus, a California venture capitalist who hosted Kaine at her home for a lunch in September alongside Hewlett-Packard executive Meg Whitman. Although Manus said she’d never back Trump, she admitted it’s Kaine, not Clinton, who helped sell her on enthusiastically backing the Democratic ticket. She said Kaine came off as attentive, empathetic and genuine, qualities that she doesn’t quite see in Clinton.
“He said ‘I trust her,’ and that spoke volumes to me,” she said. “Because if someone like him trusts her, so do I.”
Manus said it took some “arm-twisting” to get her Republican friends, who made up most of the crowd, to show up. But many walked away impressed.
“I had people calling me afterward saying they’ve never seen anyone in politics like this,” Manus said. “He took time with everyone, not giving them lip service but really thanking them and asking them about themselves in a genuine way.”
Manus said Kaine stood out because he didn’t tell attendees to abandon the Republican Party. Instead, he said they could still be proud to be affiliated with it. He spoke about what he’s learned from his Republican father-in-law, former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton. Kaine also talked up his record as former governor of Virginia and spoke about his children and love of music.
Kaine said Thursday he’ll be spending the month before Election Day trying to motivate Democrats to vote through rallies and doing interviews with local media in swing states. But Kaine also plans to spend this weekend doing fundraisers around California, with no announced public events.
“It will be a mixture,” Kaine told reporters Thursday. “Will I do fundraising? Sure. But it starts to really move more and more toward encouraging people to vote.”
Ronayne reported from Concord, New Hampshire.