Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, 57, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. He previously served as governor of Virginia and mayor of Richmond, where he and his wife live. They have three children.
You worked with Jesuit missionaries for a year in Honduras during law school. Is that a good experience for a U.S. senator?
Oh, it’s fantastic. It made a public servant out of me. It made me relatively fluent in Spanish, which is more and more helpful every day. And the Jesuits themselves kind of became my heroes.
I count eight former or current senators probably running for president next year. Which would you least like to see get the job?
[Laughs.] I’m not going to trash a colleague. That’s not my style. But, yeah, I hadn’t done the count, but that’s pretty amazing.
And you have no interest in joining that list?
I do not. I came out in May of 2014 to approach Secretary Clinton to run, and I’m very glad she’s running, and I’ll try to do anything I can to help her.
You’re a big harmonica player. Should playing an instrument be a requirement for politicians?
I think it should. [Laughs.] I think playing multiple instruments should be a requirement. No, the way I look at it is, in politics you’ve got to have a fallback in our line of work because your career can be over in an instant. Not that I would make much money playing a harmonica.
Does anyone tell a senator to stop playing his harmonica?
I’ve had people comment less than favorably on my quality. My wife is the most honest. She says, “Hey, you ought to play anytime they ask you because as soon as you’re not in elected office, they’re not going to ask you anymore.”
Is it hard to generate enthusiasm for all the people you meet as a senator?
You know, it isn’t. I’m an introvert on the Myers-Briggs. I’ve got to have time by myself to recharge. My philosophy is sort of that humans are weak, frail, imperfect and generally kind of bad, but every day I meet somebody who’s good, and that inspires me. I have a sort of Catholic-slash-Calvinist view of human nature, but every day I meet somebody who is doing cool things. So people get you out of your solitude and do things that exceed your expectations every day.
I know you’ve won a spelling bee or two. Last year one of the final words of the National Spelling Bee was stichomythia. Can you spell that?
Oh, my gosh. S-T-I-C-C-O-M-Y-T-H-I-A.
No, but pretty close.
I had C-C instead of C-H. All right, I would have lost to a 12-year-old. What does it mean?
I have no idea. ■
For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.
Follow the Magazine on Twitter.
Like us on Facebook.
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.