Much of America met Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s pick for Vice President, for the first time at the Democratic National Convention in July. Maybe it was his every-man paternal aura, or his obsession with patriotic balloons, but he quickly became the butt of every dad joke in the country.
But while most of America took to Twitter to ask Kaine for a carpool pickup to soccer practice, there’s a lot more to the longtime Democratic politician than a likeable demeanor and a bad tie. In fact, Kaine’s political history and other personal experiences are some of the many reasons he’s an attractive choice to be Clinton’s running mate. First and foremost, he’s currently a popular U.S. Senator representing Virginia, a key swing state in the race this year.
According to an election forecast by FiveThirtyEight, which accounts for polls, economic factors, and historical data, Clinton’s likelihood of winning Virginia’s 13 electoral votes was around 62.5% in mid-July. Following the announcement of Kaine as her running mate, the publication forecast her chances jumped to 78.6% at the beginning of August. And at the beginning of October? It’s climbed to 83.6%, likely because of Clinton’s debate performance, but Kaine clearly had an even bigger impact.
Kaine is much more than a political pawn for winning votes, though. He’s championed several key issues that will be at the forefront of the election, and can add to Clinton’s support of Democratic ideals. And though politics are at the forefront, he also brings a lighthearted spirit — yes, the one of your favorite cul de sac dad — to the stage, too. Here are a few things you need to know about Senator Kaine.
1. He’s never lost an election
Perhaps Clinton is hoping to capitalize on some of Kaine’s election mojo, since he’s held a number of political offices but has never lost an election. Kaine has served as a U.S. Senator for Virginia since 2012, when former Senator Jim Webb decided not to run for re-election.
Kaine began his political career in 1994 by serving on the Richmond City Council in Virginia, later becoming Richmond’s mayor. He then went on to serve as lieutenant governor and governor of the state. According to Kaine’s Senate page, he’s one of 30 people in U.S. history to serve as a mayor, governor, and U.S. senator.
While he was governor of Virginia, Kaine also served as the DNC committee chair, and was one of the earliest public figures to support Clinton’s run for president in the current election cycle. According to PBS, he voiced his support in May 2014, about a year before Clinton officially launched her campaign.
Kaine has also faced attack ads before, NPR reports, so he’s no stranger to Trump’s known tactics. While running for his Senate seat he faced fierce opposition from former Senator George Allen, and colleagues don’t believe it will be easy to ruffle Kaine’s feathers, even on a national stage.
2. He’s tackled major race issues as an attorney
Kaine attended the University of Missouri and Harvard Law School, and worked as an attorney before starting his life in politics. His first client was a black woman who had been denied housing because of her race. As Raw Story reports, that case became the basis for much of Kaine’s career focus. Roughly 75% of his law firm’s cases were focused on fair housing issues, many of which were taken on a pro bono basis.
Kaine has some major victories under his belt from his law-practicing days. One of them includes a $100.5 million settlement from Nationwide, which was accused of restricting insurance provisions in minority neighborhoods. It’s a practice called “redlining,” and Kaine argued vehemently against Nationwide’s practices in the case. In addition, Kaine has also tackled issues of education and other reforms regarding equality in Virginia and the nation.
3. Él habla español
Kaine, a devout Catholic, took a year off from studying law at Harvard to serve at a technical school in Honduras with Jesuit missionaries. His time there contributed to his now-fluent command of the Spanish language. Latino voters might have been more energized by Clinton choosing someone like Labor Secretary Thomas Perez or Housing Secretary Julián Castro (both members of Obama’s Cabinet but passed over as VP picks, according to The Washington Post), but Kaine has taken on Latino issues as well.
Aside from fair housing laws, Kaine delivered a full 13-minute speech on the Senate floor completely in Spanish. Some senators have previously spoken a few phrases in Spanish during official Congressional proceedings, but Kaine was the first Senator to speak at length in a language other than English. At the time, he was arguing for an immigration overhaul bill.
“I think it is appropriate that I spend a few minutes explaining the bill in Spanish, a language that has been spoken in this country since Spanish missionaries founded St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565,” Kaine began in his remarks. “Spanish is also spoken by more than 40 million Americans with a huge investment in the result of this debate.”
4. Guns are a big issue for him
One year after Kaine began his term as Virginia’s governor, a gunman opened fire on Virginia Tech’s campus, killing 32 people. Kaine has referred to that day as the worst one of his life, and has since become a staunch supporter of stricter gun control laws. Kaine, however, is also a gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment. He mainly advocates for tougher checkpoints and background checks, along with closing loopholes related to gun shows.
As Senator, Kaine has continued to champion reform laws that would enact tougher restrictions on purchasing firearms. He joined the sit-in many House Democrats staged at the end of June, and was part of the filibuster on the Senate floor to attempt to vote on legislation that would ban people on no-fly lists from purchasing guns.
During his remarks at the filibuster, which was led by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, Kaine said it is his “everlasting regret” that he could not pass a law in Virginia for universal background checks following the Virginia Tech shooting. “We’ve been bystanders in this body, we’ve been bystanders in this nation, as this carnage of gun violence has gone from one tragedy to the next,” Kaine said. “To cast a vote, that’s not heroic. To stand up and say we can be safer tomorrow, we can protect people’s lives, that’s not heroic. That’s just saying, ‘I will not be a bystander.’ And that’s all we have to do.”
5. He plays the harmonica
Staying true to his dad-jean vibes, Kaine is known to break out his harmonica anytime he’s within earshot of a bluegrass band. The hobby has become somewhat of a sideshow in his political endeavors, and Kaine and his staff have been known to post jokes about it now and then (see above photo).
Roll Call reports Kaine has been playing the harmonica for at least 20 years, and he’s joked to The Washington Post that it’s his de facto career path if he ever gets out of politics. “…The way I look at it is, in politics you’ve got to have a fallback in our line of work because your career can be over in an instant. Not that I would make much money playing a harmonica,” he said.
In the same interview, Kaine was quick to point out not everyone is an adoring fan of his mouth organ skills. “I’ve had people comment less than favorably on my quality,” he explained. “My wife is the most honest. She says, ‘Hey, you ought to play anytime they ask you because as soon as you’re not in elected office, they’re not going to ask you anymore.'”