One phone call really stood out to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) after Hillary Clinton selected him as her running mate.
“Hey, welcome aboard,” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence told Kaine in late July.
The Republican vice-presidential nominee’s greeting to the Democratic vice-presidential nominee is the only conversation the two men have ever had, according to Kaine. On Tuesday, the Indiana governor and Virginia senator meet for the first time face to face, sharing a stage in Farmville, Va., during a 90-minute debate that will be watched by millions and could help define their respective careers.
Their mutually friendly style could make for a less cutthroat environment than last week’s presidential debate. Their lack of common knowledge of each other adds to the expectation they will spend more time attacking the presidential nominees, Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, than each other.
“We talked by phone once, but I never met him,” Kaine explained in a brief interview last week during a quick trip to the Capitol.
Kaine said that he had been preparing for Tuesday’s debate under the assumption that Clinton would have a superior performance in the initial presidential debate, last Monday, which public polling has since confirmed. “I was already kind of preparing in that mind-set, and she did. So I don’t need to change,” Kaine said.
He said that his main focus would be contrasting the two competing visions laid out in books that Clinton and Trump have published as campaign platforms.
“Continue to lay out the vision, so the ‘Stronger Together’ versus ‘Crippled America’. … We’re going to continue to lay that out,” Kaine said, referencing Clinton and Trump’s respective manifestos. He believes the Republican’s dark view of the nation’s future does not sit well with the broader electorate.
Pence’s optimistic style, honed as a radio show host in Indiana and 12 years as a congressman on Capitol Hill, has often aped Ronald Reagan and stands in stark contrast to Trump.
“My fellow Americans, I believe we have come to another rendezvous with destiny and I have faith, faith in the boundless capacities of the American people, and faith that God can still heal our land,” Pence said toward the end of his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
But Pence is capable of going after the other side, particularly the Clintons. In July, Politico unearthed a clip from Pence’s radio show in 1997 in which he excoriated then-President Clinton for his handling of a controversial affair of a military officer, suggesting Bill Clinton’s own infidelities caused him to keep quiet on the matter.
“We haven’t heard a whisper out of the White House on this case. I mean not a whisper. And the president comments on everything. Doesn’t he? I mean you could, you could have him announce corn prices are down, the president would have a press conference,” Pence said.
Kaine said he expects Pence to focus on Clinton and the controversies that have dogged her campaign, saying that he has been preparing himself to counterpunch. “Pence will be doing an awful lot of attacking, so I’m going to be taking him on on all the attacks,” Kaine said.
Whoever becomes vice president, Kaine and Pence seem destined to play a similar role: envoy to Capitol Hill, where a younger generation of lawmakers has little experience with Clinton or Trump.
Pence, 57, finally broke through politically in 2000, claiming an open House seat representing eastern Indiana. His focus in the Capitol tended toward social issues, aligning himself with Christian conservatives who would become his strongest supporters.
After Republicans were expelled from the majority in 2006, Pence argued that the voters abandoned them because of a lack of conservative conviction. He ran a foolhardy race against John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) for House minority leader. The result, 168 votes for Boehner and 27 for Pence, was considered so embarrassing that Republicans have never since released the vote tally for any leadership race.
Boehner brought Pence into a midlevel leadership post in 2009, where his highest-profile moment came in January 2010 when he moderated a combative question-and-answer session with House Republicans and President Obama. The president was considered to have held the upper hand throughout.
Pence bowed out of leadership in 2011 to focus on his run for governor, winning by 3 percentage points in a competitive race four years ago.
That same year Kaine won his U.S. Senate seat. He had spent his previous years in state and local politics, winning a seat on the Richmond City Council in 1994, getting elevated to mayor in 1998 and in 2001 joining Mark Warner, then the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, as his running mate.
He won the 2005 governor’s race and served two years as chairman of the Democratic National Committee at Obama’s request. He had to be coaxed into running for the Senate because he so preferred being an executive.
Kaine’s issue focus was much different from Pence’s on Capitol Hill. His key assignments were the Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations committees. Kaine played the role of bipartisan bridge builder on those committees, often failing to forge compromises that could suit both sides, particularly on a new war resolution to battle the Islamic State.
In Pence, Trump found someone who counts House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) as a close friend. Ryan introduced Pence at the convention.
Despite serving eight years in the Senate, Clinton never served with more than half the current members of the chamber. Kaine is a text-messaging buddy with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), also elected in 2012 and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Flake, who has refused to endorse Trump, remains very close friends with Pence from their days in the House together, and whoever serves a heartbeat away from the presidency, he stands ready to work with him.
“He’s a good guy,” Flake of Kaine after a town hall outside Phoenix in August. “We’ve been close in the Senate. Both he and Pence. I think a lot of us wish we could flip the tickets.”