Updated as of 11:45 p.m. | Sen. Tim Kaine was not progressive Democrats’ first pick for vice president, and he’s unlikely to have changed many minds after his convention speech Wednesday.
In his big introduction speech to the world, Kaine spent more time talking about Republican nominee Donald Trump than himself.
He started off his speech by briefly walking through his resume with few anecdotes to sell his credentials and then launched into an attack on Trump, using digs at the billionaire businessman to highlight the positive traits of his running mate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Kaine did win mostly applause from the crowd, particularly when mocking Trump’s repeated saying of “believe me” — despite an impression that did not remotely resemble Trump’s New York accent. “He’s gotten knocked for being boring , but I got a good chuckle out of it,” said Rod Hall a Clinton delegate from Virginia.
But throughout Kaine’s speech, Sanders delegates remained quiet and seated in protest or standing holding anti-TPP signs. Some chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, TPP has got to go.”
With 30 percent of Americans never having heard of Kaine, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll , Wednesday night was his opportunity to create a narrative about the kind of person and Democrat he is. While he talked about both, he didn’t expand much beyond what he said at a rally with Clinton last week. Kaine touched on the values he learned growing up — his parents teaching him about hard work, kindness and faith and his experience at Jesuit boys high school inspiring him to fight for social justice.
He spoke about his time as a missionary in Honduras, saying that witnessing a dictatorship showed him that’s not how a county should be run. “It convinced me that we’ve got to advance opportunity for everyone — no matter where they come from, how much money they have, what they look like, how they worship, or who they love,” he said.
When talking about his political career, Kaine touted the successes of Virginia when he was governor — “best state for a child to be raised, low unemployment, high family income” — and the gun violence executive order he initiated after the Virginia Tech mass shooting. He highlighted his work in the Senate, where he said he’s focused on national security, investing in education and health care and helping seniors.
But Kaine didn’t delve much into issues that would have hit home with progressive, like fighting against income inequality, voter suppression and job-killing trade deals.
It’s not that Kaine doesn’t support progressive policies.
“Look at his voting record on labor, on choice, on a variety of progressive issues, they’re all like 96 percent, 100 percent. He’s got a really strong voting record,” Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan said before Kaine spoke. “If they get to know Tim Kaine, I think they’re going to like him.”
Samila Amany, a California delegates for Sanders, said Kaine is a centrist and she wasn’t overly impressed with his speech.
“Obviously at a convention they are going to highlight a couple of good things that they have done in civic service,” she said. “This is just a marketing act.”
Kaine’s background suggests a closeness to causes progressives hold dear. He worked on fair housing and discrimination cases as a civil rights attorney. And as a resident and former mayor of Richmond, he dealt with racial inequities and families living in poverty.
“He’s somebody that in his heart and soul works everyday, understands that working men and women need a voice and that this economy and this recovery is not finished until working men and women have the opportunity to benefit,” Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow said.
At the same time, Kaine has supported free trade, including until recently the Trans Pacific Partnership, opposed by the progressive wing of the party. He angered others with his support for loosening regulations on community banks.
“Most people are not as progressive as Bernie,” Virginia Rep. Robert C. Scott said. “So I think when they compare Tim Kaine with Mike Pence and Donald Trump, there’s no comparison. And politics is about choices. So this is the choice we have.”
Clinton made her choice by picking Kaine, but some progressives are slow to accept him. A few dozen Sanders supporters held a protest in and outside the media tent as the Democratic National Convention got underway Wednesday night.
They were upset that Clinton hadn’t picked Nina Turner, a former state senator from Ohio. Sanders supporters had hoped to nominate Turner for vice president but were unable to obtain the necessary forms from the convention officials in time. Instead, Kaine was nominated on a voice vote.
Many of the protesters wore stickers that read “I’m with Nina,” mocking the Clinton slogan “I’m with her.”
“Hey, hey, DNC, this is not unity,” the protesters chanted.
Makenzie Hays, a 24-year-old Sanders delegate from California, said the pick seemed designed to appeal to older conservatives instead of a young feminist such as herself.
“They tell us to unite the party, and they’ve done nothing to unite with us,” she said.
But even amid the protests, there was a pervasive sense among the gathered delegates that they simply didn’t know much about the senator from Virginia.
Aaron Bugg, a 24-year-old Sanders delegate from Kentucky, said he didn’t partake in the anti-Kaine demonstrations because he doesn’t know him, his record, or his ideas.
“I need to do more research on him,” Bugg said.
Sandy Pina, a Clinton delegate from California, said she knows Kaine is bilingual — and that’s it.
“In California, we really don’t know who he is,” Pina said.
Mike Sandler, a Sanders delegate from Virginia, said people that don’t Kaine ought to ask him the tough questions before making a judgement about him.
“The Sanders’ delegates of the Virginia delegation talked about him for a while, and a lot of our colleagues have had a lot of good dealings with him over the years and have a good sense about him,” Sandler said. “He’s not as progressive as some Bernie supporters would have liked, but we think he’s someone we could work with. He’s very honest and he has a good background in civil rights.”
While Virginia Sanders delegates are supportive, Clinton delegates from the Old Dominion are much more enthusiastic about the vice presidential nominee.
“The rest of America got to go on a first date with the guy who everyone in the commonwealth loves, and they walked away wanting to get engaged,” Virginia Clinton delegate Morgan Jameson said after the speech.
Chris Warnke, a Clinton delegate from Washington, D.C., said she hadn’t been that familiar with Kaine before his speech but said he impressed her.
“I just think he really relates to people. Look at who he is,” she said. “Not a lot of people go to Honduras…or anywhere. He’s unique.”
Kaine has proven his ability to win over voters on the campaign trail, South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn said.
“I’ve campaigned with him in union halls when I was the only black guy in the room and in black churches when he was the only white guy in the room. And he wooed both sides,” he said.
But for some Sanders supporters, there’s nothing Kaine could have said to change their minds.
“You might flip-flop to be more politically correct or to be more electable,” Minnesota Sanders delegate Erica Onsrud said. “I do not believe that core beliefs change.”
And when it comes to Kaine’s core beliefs, she said, he “is not progressive in any sense.” Onsrud cited his opposition to abortion as an example and noted that the only positive thing she has to say about him is that he was born in her home state.
“I think it was an intentional choice to disenfranchise the Sanders people and the progressive platform,” she said.
Hays agreed Kaine was unlikely to say anything in his speech to change her mind.
“He would have to flip-flop on a lot of positions,” she said.
And so perhaps that’s why Kaine didn’t try to sell himself to progressive. Maybe it’s better for him to focus on attacking Trump, since opposition to the Republican nominee has been the primary thing bringing Democrats together.