President Harry Truman once said that someone who wants a friend in Washington should buy a dog. But the prevailing view among a number of area Jews who know Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is that he is one politician capable of getting along with just about anyone.
Kaine, 58, a former governor who was elected to the Senate in 2012, is widely seen as a potential running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The two were scheduled to campaign together in Northern Virginia on July 14. He’s been an early supporter of her candidacy, starting in 2014, the year before she announced she would seek the presidency.
Kaine served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2009 to 2011, which is where Bethesda resident and former Maryland Democratic Party chair Susan Turnbull worked with him.
“His personality and his way of working has always been to bring people in and to be supportive in every leadership position he’s every held,” she said. “He’s been a uniter. He is someone who’s solid, who doesn’t get ruffled easily.”
Turnbull credits Kaine with helping to serve as a bridge between Democratic governors and the Obama administration during what was then a time of transition for the country.
She said Kaine’s integrity and political experience make him a good fit for a vice presidential role.
“His strength is that he is a very even-tempered, smart, strategic guy,” she said. “He is someone who had a start as a Peace Corps volunteer and he has always worked in public service.”
The talk at the water cooler is that Kaine is the “safe” option for Clinton. He is considered the most moderate on her shortlist, which includes Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). But it is Kaine’s easygoing personality that his supporters say is his greatest strength.
“He can go into a room and meet 30 people and remember their names. I think that’s a great talent to have,” said Stuart Siegel, the former chairman of S&K Menswear and who has known Kaine for 16 years, going back to when Kaine was mayor of Richmond. Siegel and his wife, Dawn, who was Kaine’s finance director during his tenure as lieutenant governor, and her husband shared their wedding vows at the governor’s mansion in 2007.
Siegel called Kaine a “model politician who runs for the right reasons” and thinks he would be a solid choice for Clinton’s running mate.
“Tim has an impeccable record of integrity and he’s extraordinarily bright,” he said. “And he’s done a tremendous amount since he’s gone to the Senate.
Kaine is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was a key supporter of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, as the nuclear agreement is formally known. He co-authored a bill that allowed Congress to review the deal.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spoke to Congress in March 2015 in opposition of the agreement, Kaine skipped the speech, along with seven other Democratic senators.
In an interview with Washington Jewish Week in January, Kaine said his absence during the speech was a rebuke to Congress and not Netanyahu. He later called the prime minister a “key partner.”
Kaine’s boycott of Netyanyahu’s speech should not be taken as a negative sign about his view of the U.S.-Israel relationship, said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
“I think it basically shows his disapproval and rejection of certain protocols,” Halber said. “The prime minister angered a lot of people by doing that. I’m not going to get into the right or wrong of it, but it was very controversial decision.”
Howard Gutman, a former ambassador to Belgium, said he does not foresee lingering tension between Kaine and Netanyahu should the senator end up as vice president.
“No one will try more to ensure Israel’s security and its long-term prosperity than a Clinton-Kaine ticket, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he supports a Netanyahu campaign on settlements or a one-state solution,” Gutman said.
Gutman, who was Kaine’s classmate at Harvard Law School, noted that Kaine was also on Barack Obama’s short list in 2008, along with then-Sens. Joe Biden and Evan Bayh, but ultimately Biden got the nod.
“Tim has lots of things going for him,” Gutman said. “He is, like others, a centrist Democrat. He’s from a swing state who’s had governor and senator experience. But the thing that stands out about Tim is he’s the nicest guy in Washington.”