PHILADELPHIA — Tim Kaine was in a tight spot.
His Democratic National Committee speaking slot came sandwiched between a series of antipathy-inciting former Republicans and the president of the United States. So he had awkward acts to follow, and—to an energetic, liberal, Obama-loving crowd—a tough act to open for.
On top of that, his speech came after days of noisy, energetic, cantankerous anti-Clinton demonstration from Bernie Sanders supporters both inside and outside Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Arena. So Kaine’s task was a dicey one: addressing a Bernie-loving crowd in the wake of disillusioned Republicans—and trying to appeal to voters in both demographics. And the Venn diagram of angsty Hillary-friendly conservatives and Bernie Sanders ex-revolutionaries—well, it doesn’t exactly have a ton of overlap.
So when Kaine waltzed onto the wide blue stage on the third night of the Democratic National Convention, he was walking into a lion’s den of sorts.
He left in one piece. Mostly.
This won’t get easier. As his speech indicated, Kaine and Clinton have elected to simultaneously woo crabby Sanders supporters and make passes at disenchanted moderate Republicans who aren’t exactly cool with their party’s nominee encouraging Russia to hack the U.S. government.
Kaine gave it a shot.
“Linwood Holton, he’s still a Republican,” he said of his father-in-law, the former Virginia governor, who was in the crowd for his speech. “But he’s voting for an awful lot of Democrats these days, an awful lot of Democrats, and here’s why: He’s voting for Democrats because any party that would nominate Donald Trump for president has moved too far away from his party of Lincoln. And I tell ya, if any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we’ve got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party.”
The crowd cheered.
They cheered again when he mentioned that he serves on the Senate Budget Committee with one Bernie Sanders.
“BERNIE! BERNIE! BERNIE!” they chanted.
“Everybody, we all should feel the Bern, and we all should not want to get burned by the other guy,” he ad-libbed, deviating from his prepared remarks. Audience members laughed and cheered, and the tension dissipated.
He doubled down on the Republican appeals a few minutes later.
“Can I tell you a funny thing about the Senate? That sounds like a yes,” he said. “I spend a lot of time with Republican senators who, once they have made sure that nobody is listening, will tell you how fantastic a senator that Hillary Clinton was.”
And he mentioned the Trump opposition of former first lady Barbara Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Kaine mocked Trump throughout the speech, mimicking his mannerisms and ridiculing one of his favorite catch-phrases, “Believe me.”
The crowd was attentively responsive to his speech—at various points chanting his phrases back at him including “NOT A CLUE!” “NOT ONE WORD!” (regarding Trump), “SI SE PUEDE!” and “LISTO!”
He’d walked in on a crowd that was, to put it gently, energetic. Throughout the evening in the lead-up to Kaine’s speech, the thousands of people who packed into the arena vacillated between cheering their favorite lines, booing mentions of Donald Trump, and competitively trying to shout each other down when hawkish centrist Democrats made the case for Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy.
And some lobbed very specifically tailored chants at the moderate-friendly speakers who preceded Kaine. Former CIA head Leon Panetta was interrupted with chants of “NO MORE WAR!” And as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg—an ex-Republican—walked off stage, a handful of Texas delegates lept to their feet, pumped their fists in the air, and chanted, “STOP AND FRISK! STOP AND FRISK! STOP AND FRISK!”
California delegates hoisted a few dozen anti-TPP signs when Kaine started speaking, and delegates in a number of other states joined them in waving the signs throughout his address. But, overwhelmingly, the response he got was noisy, positive, and pumped. The newly minted vice presidential contender responded to the roaring applause that followed his speech by running down the stage’s steps to shake hands with the crowd—only for Secret Service agents to stop him in his tracks.
So running for veep will take a little adjusting. But this is what it’s going to look like: name-checking Barbara Bush and Bernie Sanders, referring to a mass shooting before aping an opponent’s mannerisms, and seeing just how close he can get to making everybody happy.