Here’s what the vice presidential candidates bring to their respective tickets.
MILWAUKEE — Their job descriptions are similar, but their day-to-day responsibilities couldn’t be more different.
Mike Pence, the GOP vice presidential nominee, is straining to hold the Republican Party’s conservative tent together amid the tumultuous campaign of his running mate Donald Trump. He’s consistently forced to address the latest bout of controversy in his calm, workmanlike demeanor.
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Tim Kaine’s got it easy by comparison. The Virginia senator is merely augmenting Hillary Clinton’s message, serving as a down-home articulator of long-held Democratic policy values.
The selections of Kaine and Pence have done little to change the broad contours of the race, which is showing signs of drifting away from Republicans three months out from Election Day. But the utilization of each candidate is revealing as the election winds through the sleepy month of August before it heats up next month with debates and voters’ returns from vacation.
Pence is working assiduously to reassure nervous Republicans that Trump is a champion for the military and a strong standard-bearer for their party. Kaine doesn’t have to vouch for Clinton — his role is to raise money, badger Trump and put a folksy voice behind Clinton’s policy plans that are a mix of congressional Democrats’ and Sanders’s populist policies.
“He’s the one that people can go to when they’re trying to understand the message,” said one prominent Indiana Republican operative of Pence. “To people who don’t understand Trumpism … he’s the one who communicates to them.”
“[Kaine] just comes across as a down-to-earth practical problem solver,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). “Trump has pretty much confined his campaign activities to talking on television … Pence, I think he’s a non-factor.”
In separate visits to Wisconsin in recent days, their disparate roles were on full display. Against the backdrop of a gentrifying riverfront neighborhood in Milwaukee, Kaine played the traditional running mate’s role, dinging Trump repeatedly as an enemy of the working class and casting Clinton as an economic savior.
“Hillary Clinton will be the right president for small business and Donald Trump is wrong,” Kaine said simply.
Two hours up the road, Pence put the finishing touches on his latest rebuilding project: The poor relations between House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump. As Trump wavered in endorsing Ryan, Pence “strongly” supported the Wisconsin Republican’s reelection campaign two days before Trump.
In Green Bay, Trump finally followed suit, delivering a tightly scripted endorsement of the speaker after saying he was “not quite there yet” when it came to supporting Ryan.
“He is an outstanding person and really an extraordinary conservative leader,” Pence said of Ryan on Wisconsin radio Monday, augmenting Trump’s unenthusiastic remarks.
Pence is now turning to even bigger problems as poll after poll shows Trump lagging behind Clinton. Accordingly, the Indiana governor is barnstorming Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania this week in a bid to reinvigorate the white working class voters who have powered Trump’s campaign.
Kaine’s schedule this week, which is no less grueling, reflects a different imperative — Democratic worries that the GOP will catch up in money before it catches up in polls. Kaine is fundraising in deep red Texas and Louisiana and safe New York before traveling to competitive New Hampshire late this week.
And while Kaine, a former Democratic National Committee chair, helps wrangle donors, Pence is trying to wrangle reluctant Republicans. He met with Trump skeptic Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake last week and gave an interview to prominent
Wisconsin talk radio host Charlie Sykes — an avowed member of the “Never Trump” movement.
“Can you or anyone else get Mr. Trump to stop saying crazy and offensive things for the next three months?” Sykes asked Pence Monday.
“This campaign is head down, going after it hard,” Pence responded.
Pence demurred to Sykes on whether Trump should apologize to the Khan family after an imbroglio with them over Khizr Khan’s critical speech at the Democratic National Convention and then danced around the details of Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims — not exactly the type of questions that Kaine is facing.
Republicans skeptical of Trump favor Pence’s deeply held social and economic conservative values as well as his reserved personality. And his value to the ticket has been amplified as Trump continues to bleed support, with a trio of moderate House Republicans defecting in the past week.
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