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Missouri delegates see VP nominee Kaine as 'good guy,' 'principled,' 'centrist'

PHILADELPHIA – Democratic vice presidential hopeful Tim Kaine may have departed from Missouri a long time ago. But for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Virginia senator still retains Show Me State sensibilities.

McCaskill expressed her enthusiasm almost immediately after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton picked him as his running mate.Not only was she excited that an alum of the University of Missouri-Columbia was getting his time in the sun, but also the fact that a “good guy” was getting his due.

“I challenge someone to find a Republican in the United States Senate that doesn’t just say, ‘He’s a really good guy.’ And that’s unusual, because where I work, there are pretty sharp elbows,” said McCaskill earlier this week. “And there’s a lot  of competition and there’s a lot of egos. And there are a lot of people who get crosswise with their colleagues.

"This is not the kind of guy that ever gets crosswise with anybody. He is honorable. And I think the American people are beginning to figure that he’s a down-to-Earth Midwesterner with the values and integrity that they want to see in a vice president.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill made a direct appeal to Sanders supporters at the Monday breakfast.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is a big fan of U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine. "He's just a good guy," she said on Monday.

Kaine officially accepted the vice presidential nomination on Wednesday, marking the first time in a while that someone with Missouri ties made the presidential ticket. The Minnesota-born senator grew up in the Kansas City area (on the Kansas side) and attended Rockhurst High School. He eventually received his bachelor’s degree at Mizzou.

(Kaine gave a shout out of sorts to Kansas City during his speech. He also referenced his time at Rockhurst High School, which prompted some social media chatter from native Kansas Citians.)

Kaine stressed his Missouri roots on Thursday morning when he was a surprise guest speaker at the Missouri delegation's breakfast. In addition to talking about his adventures at the state's parks, Kaine said he found some commonalities with Missouri's most successful politicians.

"It's a place that you feel so powerfully about," Kaine said. "And also, it's a key part of who I am politically. I just came from a meeting where people asked me to describe myself. I said I'm a Harry Truman Democrat."

The Harvard Law School graduate spent time as a missionary in Honduras, a civil rights attorney, a councilman, mayor and governor before being elected to the Senate. And one of the people who got to know Kaine was former Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat who served from 2001 to 2005.

“He’s just a great person. Very down to Earth. What you see is what you get,” Holden said. “But he’s got tremendous amount of respect among his colleagues – both then as a governor and now as a U.S. senator – because he is someone that you can sit down and work with and find solutions.”

Kansas City Mayor Sly James said the best thing about him is the fact that he could step in and become president. He said that Kaine has “the ability to absolutely govern this country if he needs to do that.”

“That’s step number one. Number two: He’s an extremely bright man. Extremely principled in his approaches,” James said. “Don’t agree with him on all things. We’re both Jesuit trained. But one of the things he and I agree on very sincerely is Jesuits preach service to others. He’s dedicated his life to service for others.”

Inspecting the record

Kaine’s selection didn’t receive universal praise. Some fans of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders contended that Kaine wasn’t progressive enough – especially when looking at his record on trade and labor issues. 

Members of the Missouri delegation take pictures with their smartphones during Vice President Joe Biden's speech.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the Missouri delegation take pictures with their smartphones during Vice President Joe Biden's speech.

“I think many of us had hoped for a more progressive person,” said St. Louis Alderman Megan Green earlier this week. “I was hesitant to want Elizabeth Warren, just because I think she serves a very important role in the Senate. But I think that there were other progressives out there that could have been chosen that maybe would have fired up the Sanders base a little bit more – and made it easier to make a transition to Secretary Clinton.”

And some Sanders backers have misgivings regarding Kaine’s personal opposition to abortion.

“I thought that there could have been a much better choice,” said Wentzville resident and Sanders delegate Jackson Thompson. “I’ve seen some of his stances on the issues and he seems like a centrist. And what we’ve been pushing for is for more progressive candidates. He doesn’t follow in what we’ve been fighting for.”

When asked about the criticism from some Sanders supporters, McCaskill said that there’s a lot to like about Kaine’s entire record.

“There may be some votes here and there that he’s cast that he believed were the right votes in terms of being good for Virginia, in terms of his moderate views on some issues,” McCaskill said. “But on the vast majority of the issues, I mean here’s a guy who took on the NRA and won in Virginia. In Virginia! I mean, that’s no small feat. Yeah, there are a few votes they’re not going to like. But the bulk of his votes and bulk of his work and the way he’s lived his life I think would be very appealing to most Bernie supporters if they give him that chance.”

State Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, said she was “ecstatic” about Kaine being picked. She pointed to his favorable ratings from NARAL and Planned Parenthood. 

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon listens to a speech Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon listens to a speech Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“His voting record in the United States Senate has been 100 percent in terms of reproductive rights,” Newman said. “But he like many other Americans believe that his personal beliefs should not dictate what you or what government should do in the realm of women’s reproductive choices. And that’s what this is about. It’s about a reproductive choice.” 

After calling him a “pragmatic person in some respects,” James said that it may be a moot point if Kaine diverges from Clinton on some issues.

“From his position as vice president, he’s not going to have much impact on those issues. That’s not his thing,” James said. “And he will be guided by the policy direction of the president. And the policy direction of this president is pro-choice, pro-labor, all the other things that he may disagree. The fact of the matter is when she selects him and knows that they disagree, but they’re still able to work together, that’s a good sign.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.