ORLANDO - While the political world was wrapped up in the commotion around Monday night's debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine was in a wildly different setting very far away, marking and mourning one of the nation's worst tragedies up close.
The Virginia senator was in Orlando for campaign events, and decided to make a quiet, unannounced stop at the site of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, a visit that aides say he felt very strongly about. Kaine visited the site along with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her husband Captain Mark Kelly, and Orlando Police Chief John Mina. They viewed the rainbow-colored wall, read letters and messages from people who lost their loved ones, and left flowers at the memorial.
The stop was a reflective moment for Kaine and a reminder of what his state endured nine years ago while he was serving as Virginia's governor. After surveying the site of the nightclub, the senator approached the small group of reporters gathered at the side of the site with tears in his eyes.
"This is a weird thing to say, but I always hoped that the Virginia Tech one would be the worst one ever," Kaine said, appearing to choke up. "As bad as that was, I hoped that nothing would ever eclipse it but, such as life. We got work to do."
Up until the Orlando shooting, the Virginia Tech massacre that killed 32 people in 2007 was the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. Kaine was lauded for his response to the tragedy as governor, and he still refers to it as the worst day of his life.
In June, the Pulse tragedy became the nation's deadliest shooting when 49 people were killed and 53 were wounded as a gunman opened fire inside the gay nightclub.
Giffords and Kelly also appeared with Kaine at a debate watch party in Orlando Monday night hosted by the Human Rights Campaign. The couple is starting a six-week long national bus tour to draw attention to gun violence prevention measures.