RICHMOND, Va. — Over the course of this journey on a ticket with Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine will give a lot of speeches to crowds across the country. He gave the biggest speech of his career last week in a primetime address at the Democratic National Convention when he formally accepted the party's nomination for vice president.
But when he returned home Monday night for his first solo rally of the campaign — in front of a packed, charged gymnasium in his hometown — an emotional and reflective Kaine told those gathered before him that what he was about to say was going to be harder than anything else he would say over the course of this experience.
"This will be the hardest speech that I will give through the entire campaign," he told them. Kaine spoke about what it was like appearing in front of millions at the DNC, then continued: "This speech is harder. How do I sum up and then give thanks for 32 years of friendship in RVA? What I know about public service, you taught me... everything I know and everything I've learned I've learned from you."
The senator was most emotional when he turned to the "hardest of the hard" part of his speech, where he paid tribute to his wife, Anne Holton, who left her job one week ago as Virginia's secretary of education to be able to campaign for the ticket full time.
Monday also marked the first time Holton spoke in front of a crowd on this campaign trail. She introduced her husband by retelling memories from the three-day bus trip they just finished across Pennsylvania and Ohio, adding, "I know he's going to be a great partner to Secretary Clinton because he has been such a great partner to me."
While Kaine was full of reflection Monday, he also didn't shy away from launching more attacks at Donald Trump's controversial comments about the Khan family, who Kaine noted are from the commonwealth. "This family, proud Virginians, right. They're us, they're proud Virginians."
"Their son went to the University of Virginia," Kaine continued, "and went through ROTC there and volunteered to be in the military before 9/11. And then, in a split second when he thought a suicide bomber was coming toward his colleagues, he got in the way and he was right and he lost his life but he saved everybody else's life. He's buried in Virginia too, in Arlington National Cemetery and on his gravestone is the crescent to emphasize the fact that his family is of Muslim faith."
"Donald Trump has the temerity to trash him and even say stupid things about this poor boy's mom who was so over-wrought emotionally, even 12 years after her son died, that she said I can't stand in front of a microphone and say anything and Donald kind of trashes her for that," he added. "I mean, is there no limit to which this guy will descend?"
But while the senator diverted serious attention to what a "twisted view" Trump has about the country — even suggesting Trump's slogan should instead be "blame America first" — Kaine's focus Monday was clearly on his home state. He took on the role of analyst and offered a long explanation about how he convinced then-Senator Obama's team to invest in Virginia before the president turned the state blue for the last two presidential elections.
"I said — I'll tell you something, if you invest in us, if you put your faith in the Virginia voter, you're not going to see a bad poll, you're going to win Virginia," Kaine remembered. "And then you're going to be President not in spite of Virginia, but partly because of Virginia, and that's just what happened."
Kaine marveled at how Virginians no longer have to stay up and focus on waiting for returns in states like Florida and Ohio, because their state is critical, too, adding that Clinton is now "rock solid serious" about winning the commonwealth.
Kaine was clear about the stakes he sees before him in this election, and claimed that he's spoken to leaders of other countries who express support for their ticket.
"I think we all ought to feel a little bit of weight on our shoulders because our citizens are counting on us," Kaine told the crowd. "And I talk to people all around the world. I'm on the Foreign Relations Committee and the leaders of the other nations tell me, 'we are counting on you.' We've got to have the right leadership in this country."
Kaine embarks on his first solo trip of the election Tuesday morning, when he heads off for a trip to events in Florida and then North Carolina.
"I just want to say this," he said. "It's going to be 99 days and I'll suspect they'll probably be the hardest 99 days that I have, that I have ever been connected with but they'll probably be the most exciting, too. They'll probably be the most meaningful, too."