MIAMI (AP) — Tim Kaine's workmanlike Spanish is the only game in town when it comes to speaking directly to one of the country's fastest growing voting blocs during the presidential campaign.
The Democratic vice presidential candidate developed his Spanish decades ago as a young missionary in Honduras. Now he's putting it to use in a way no other candidate on a major party ticket has done before.
Hillary Clinton, eager to take advantage of Donald Trump's harsh rhetoric about immigrants, is using Kaine's Spanish skills to help cement Hispanic support.
Kaine has been a near constant presence on Spanish-language media, speaking directly to their audience of millions in battleground states like Florida and Nevada. One in 5 of the interviews he's done since joining the ticket has been in Spanish, or 50 in Spanish overall. Clinton, Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, don't have that skill.
"That's been one of the most fun parts of the campaign, to be able to do Spanish-language radio, TV, newspapers and also just to go to places and just interact with people that way," Kaine said.
Kaine's exposure could be beneficial. As of 2012, nearly 1 out of 5 Hispanic adults in the U.S. got news exclusively from Spanish-language outlets, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew projected the number of Hispanic eligible voters to be 40 percent greater in 2016 than eight years ago.
In the critical battleground of Florida, 1.9 million Hispanics account for 15 percent of registered voters, according to state data from August. Of them, about 500,000 are registered Republicans, 737,000 are Democrats and 634,000 have no party affiliation.
No one would confuse Kaine with a native speaker. He describes himself as "real Irish-looking guy who has a somewhat OK accent."
But Spanish speakers say they appreciate the effort.
Among them is Alanlys Correia, a native Spanish-speaker who moved to Florida from Venezuela 20 years ago.
"Because he lived in Honduras, he knows very well our culture," Correia said after hearing Kaine speak Monday in West Palm Beach. "I think it helps."
At the outset of the primary campaign, proficiency in Spanish was a characteristic of the Republican field. Early-favorite Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American, both speak Spanish. Ted Cruz, despite his Hispanic roots, has limited bilingual skills. But those candidates fell away in favor of Trump, who has created hostility among Hispanics.
Visiting an early voting polling place in Doral, Florida, this week, Kaine conversed directly with voters who don't speak English. Sandra Ruiz, a Doral mayoral candidate who met Kaine at the polls, said one-on-one interaction without the interruption of a translator is important.
"I think the person that does not need a translator can understand the message directly and nothing is lost in the translation," Ruiz said. "I think the message can be more profound in that way."
Kaine switches comfortably between English and Spanish when speaking to crowds. He'll talk about the values of "fe, familia, y trabajo" — faith, family and work — that he learned in Honduras, or remind them they must go "adelante no atras" — forward not back.
Besides such bromides, Kaine plays up issues important to Hispanics, like immigration. And at a recent campaign stop in Orlando, where the Puerto Rican population has recently surged, Kaine diverted from his standard speech to promise Clinton's support for the territory. Kaine made the remarks mostly in Spanish.
Kaine was introduced by state Rep. Victor Torres, who recalled meeting Kaine in 2009 when he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
"We chatted a bit, and I said to him: 'You know, your Spanish is very good, you should run for president,'" Torres said.
Suderman reported from Orlando, Florida.
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This story has been corrected to say Kaine has done 50 interviews in Spanish.