In the heated battle with Republicans over Voting rights, Democrats V.P. nominee Tim Kaine is emerging as the tip of the Democratic spear.
He is strategically attacking GOP Governors of battleground States, home to restrictions on Voter ID and Early Voting, and giving the battle to expand the vote significant focus in his stump speeches. It’s a role that's in line with the traditionally aggressive stance taken by Vice Presidential nominees, but just as important, it's winning him reliable applause from the Minority voters and Black Political leaders who are central to the Clinton's coalition.
For Kaine, the focus on expanding Voting Rights isn’t just about getting the crowd going at his rallies. Instead, it’s a political cudgel that could potentially motivate enough base voters to swing a State or two to the Democrats’ column.
“This has been a conversation in African-American communities, and I believe it’s going to energize the African-American vote,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat. “Tim Kaine is a Southerner. And he knows that there has been intentional discrimination for decades in the South to disenfranchise African-American voters. He knows it happened in Virginia.”
Clinton has given several major addresses on the matter in her campaign, and Kaine has focused on Voting Rights consistently as her running mate, lingering in stump speeches on “governors out there trying to screw around and keep people from voting.” But with Trump monopolizing the political conversation, and Republicans insisting Kaine is mischaracterizing their intentions to crack down on Voter fraud, some Democrats are worried that it's still not enough. They fear the opportunity to capitalize on Voting Rights could be squandered without a constant drumbeat of rhetoric from the top of the ticket.
“Kaine gets it, and he gets that things are not equal and that we still have a lot of work to do,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “While everyone’s looking at Trump, hundreds of thousands of people in Texas are losing their right to vote. North Carolina, losing their right to vote. And when all the dust settles, we’ve got a major problem because we won’t be able to vote anyway.”
On Thursday, Kaine revived his advocacy to "protect voting rights" in New Orleans while addressing the Progressive National Baptist Convention, a Clinton campaign aide said. And if past is prologue, Kaine won’t be coy about his intentions: That high Voter turnout and evisceration of more Restrictive Voting laws can translate to significant gains in November and possibly beyond.
In Baltimore earlier this month, he celebrated Courts “striking down in a number of states arbitrary restrictions that are trying to hold people back from voting” with the National Urban League. In Milwaukee, Kaine praised the ongoing Court battle over strict Voter-ID laws that were installed “because if you vote [Republicans will] lose.” And in Greensboro, N.C., he predicted that because of a recent Court decision, “100,000 people who were supposed to be able to participate, who were shunted aside, will now get to come back in and participate.” “We got to show everybody we know our vote matters and vote for Hillary Clinton. OK?” Kaine said there.
In 2012, resistance to the Tea Party wave’s new crackdowns on Voter fraud helped stoke Democratic turnout in key swing States among minorities. In 2016, Democrats say Kaine’s work on the matter could help the Party make big gains up and down the ballot.
“It was obvious Republicans were doing everything they could to suppress the vote,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). “There was a backlash. People are so offended that I think more people come out than they normally would.”
Kaine is no recent arrival to Voting Rights advocacy, finding the cause during his missionary work in Honduras in the early ‘80s, a place with a history of sham elections and political repression. Upon moving to Richmond, Virginia, and pursuing political office, Kaine embraced Voting Rights as Governor, though he avoided the sweeping declaration of restoring Rights to Nonviolent Felons that current Gov. Terry McAuliffe has pursued. Still, Kaine has backed McAuliffe's efforts.
Restoration of Rights to Convicts, State-based Photo-ID laws and Early Voting periods are the front lines of Kaine’s battle after key portions of the Voting Rights Act were struck down in 2013 and Congress failed to pass an updated version. As a Senator, Kaine traveled with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) to Selma, Alabama, in 2014 and is a Co-Sponsor of new versions of the VRA.
That long lineage is important to black voters, said Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.). “He certainly is the right person to talk about it. He brings a lot of personal experience,” Adams said. “That helps to gain trust from so many people who really didn’t know him."
The political component of Kaine’s Voting Rights drive is not lost on Republicans, who say he went over the line by predicting the July decision by a Federal Appeals Court in North Carolina to reinstate more Early Voting and Out-of-District Voting would help Clinton. “Can you imagine if a Republican governor said that?” asked one North Carolina GOP Official.
“Kaine revealed the real reason Democrats are going after voter ID laws in politically important states just in time for 2016: they believe weakening the integrity of our elections will help them win in November,” said Ricky Diaz, a spokesman for GOP North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.
Campaigning in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Tuesday Trump predicted that people will skirt the law now and vote “many times” in the election, furthering his narrative that the election is “rigged” against him.
In Wisconsin, the battle is ongoing after an appeals court reversed an order to reform Voter ID rules after finding they unfairly targeted Minority voters. Kaine stated plainly last week that those rules are in place to hand elections to the GOP. “When I see people here trying to shove people aside so they can’t participate, they’re doing it for a reason. They’re doing it because your vote does matter. They’re doing it because if you vote, they’ll lose,” Kaine said. “We want to serve, they want to win.”
Wisconsin has been reliably blue in Presidential years, but three Election wins by Gov. Scott Walker have Trump eyeing the State and its blue-collar voters. And Democrats fret that Walker has worked consistently to make it more difficult for Minorities and people from low-income households to vote with a strict Voter ID law and by nixing some weekend Early voting.
Walker said in an emailed statement that under the law the State had the highest Presidential Primary turnout since 1972 and the law’s goal is to make it “easy to vote but hard to cheat.” And Wisconsin Republicans say their stricter Voting Rules have nothing to do with electoral politics, accusing the Vice Presidential nominee of taking a cheap shot to amp up support among liberal activists.
“It’s the same drumbeat that we’ve heard for the last five years since we started making these changes, it’s just risen to another level because you have the vice presidential nominee coming in and piling on,” said Wisconsin GOP State Rep. Tyler August. “He’s trying to gin up his base.”
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said Kaine is merely articulating the reality for what she estimates is about 300,000 disenfranchised Wisconsinites, many of them black or Latino who would lean Democratic.
“It’s no joke to require that people have this ID,” Moore said, dismissing charges that Democrats only want to restore Voting Rights for political gain. “It’s all about Democrats being more democratic and holding up democracy. We don’t do the reverse thing, which is to figure out a strategy to keep the Republicans from voting.”
NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker