Virginia senator Tim Kaine happily embraced the role of Hillary Clinton's running mate and attack dog at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday, introducing himself to a national audience as the relatively unknown No. 2 on the party's presidential ticket. But he was upstaged earlier the same night by the actual vice president—a testament to Joe Biden's otherworldly appeal as the salty populist of the American middle class.
Biden, the first primetime speaker in Wednesday night's lineup, reminded the American public why he's one of the most compelling, and authentic, speakers in politics today. He guffawed about his lack of sophistication and basically erupted into fits about his love of America: "We are America, second to none, and we own the finish line!"
Since joining Barack Obama's ticket in 2008, Biden has been deeply effective as a sort of validator—a tough-kid Catholic from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who rode the Amtrak daily from Delaware to his job in the United States Senate. On Wednesday night, he reprised that role, viciously trying to pop the Donald Trump bubble, with more enthusiasm than anyone else who has spoken at the Democratic convention so far this week.
The result was deeply fun to watch—Biden just killed it, eviscerating Trump's disconnect from the struggles of working people with each goofy Bidenism. "No matter where you were raised, how can there be pleasure in saying, 'You're fired'?" he asked, the audience completely enthralled.
"He has no clue about what makes America great," the vice president went on, working himself to the speech's crescendo. "Actually, he has no clue, period."
Kaine tried to do those things, too. But for the most part, he was just as advertised: a self-described "boring" centrist who was clearly the safest possible pick for Clinton. In his first major address to an audience outside Virginia, Kaine praised his running mate at length, even as progressive critics—particularly those skeptical of Kaine's stance on free trade and specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership—heckled him a bit on national TV.
"We all should feel the burn," Kaine told the crowd. "And we all should not wanna get burned by the other guy."
But after a slow start punctuated by a couple of eye-rolling one-liners like that one, Kaine seemed to find his bearings, projecting an air of swing-state masculinity that Clinton might need to help boost her favorability ratings with white men. He also repeatedly broke into the Spanish he picked up as a missionary in the Honduras to the delight of the crowd—a routine that could bolster Clinton's built-in advantage with Hispanics against the Nativist icon at the top of the Republican ticket.
More than anything else, Kaine showed that he's quite comfortable mocking Republican nominee Donald Trump, apparently relishing the attack-dog role traditionally assumed by vice presidential candidates.
"Trump is a guy who promises a lot, but, uh, you mighta noticed, he's got a way of saying the same two words every time he makes his biggest, yoogest promises: Believe me!" Kaine said. "It's gonna be great, believe me!" he continued, speaking in a strangely effective faux-Trump voice. "We're gonna build a wall and make Mexico pay for it—believe me! We're gonna destroy ISIS so fast, believe me!
"So here's the question: Do you really believe him?" Kaine added. "Donald Trump's whole career says you better not." Then, in what may have been his biggest applause line all night, he scoffed: "There's nothing suspicious in my tax returns, believe me."
The hope, of course, is that Kaine will be able to win over potential Trump voters, specifically white, low-income males in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and his home state of Virginia—all battlegrounds Democrats carried in 2008 and 2012, but which have the potential to swing red again this time around.
And he can also help Hillary Clinton project continuity with the Obama era. But as Biden's speech revealed earlier in the night, he has a very tough act to follow.
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