Reuters International

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Old State House in Springfield, Illinois, U.S. July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Whitney Curtis

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By Richard Cowan and Luciana Lopez

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is widely seen as the "safe choice" to become Hillary Clinton's vice presidential running-mate, and that may be the biggest mark against him.

With a resume that includes a stint as a missionary in Honduras before becoming a civil rights lawyer, Kaine could help Clinton check a lot of boxes in the list of requirements for a running mate.

Fluent in Spanish, he could build on her efforts to reach out to Latino voters. Kaine is also affable, savvy about foreign policy and has executive experience as a former governor of Virginia and a former mayor of Richmond, the state's capital.

And as a Virginian, Kaine could help Clinton win a battleground state in the Nov. 8 race against Republican Donald Trump.

He is the obvious safe choice, according to many Democratic members of Congress. And though the Clinton campaign is keeping the vice presidential selection process tightly under wraps, many Democrats in Washington see Kaine as the front-runner.

But in a year when standard political playbooks are being tossed aside, some Democrats in Congress and in outside groups want to see Clinton make a more unconventional pick for her already historic run as the first female presidential nominee of a major party.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a fierce critic of Wall Street, and Julian Castro, a Latino who is the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, are among two popular figures mentioned by Democrats who want to see Clinton go bold in her vice presidential decision.

As Clinton moves toward a final decision before the Democratic convention in Philadelphia July 25-28, she is heading out on the campaign trail on Thursday with Kaine, where the two will appear at a rally in Northern Virginia.

Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress, a progressive advocacy group in Nevada, said she did not think Kaine would be the best choice.

"For the demographics that we’re looking to motivate in this election, I think it’s going to be really important to have especially a person of colour as her running mate," Magnus said.

Besides Warren and Castro, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Representative Xavier Becerra of California, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and, more recently, retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis have all been mentioned as possibilities.

Asked about Kaine, Artie Blanco, a super delegate from Nevada, said he would not be her top pick.

“Excited, no. Okay with, you know, sure,” she said.

Blanco said she likes Becerra and Perez as potential picks. She said Warren “would be fantastic” and she likes Brown's stance on worker issues.

CAN HE FIRE UP VOTERS?

Thursday's event with Kaine will give Clinton an opportunity to gauge whether the 58-year-old Harvard-educated senator would help her fire up a crowd and make for a comfortable fit on the campaign trail.

Some Democratic senators on Wednesday rallied around Kaine.

Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who has served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Kaine, said in a brief interview: "If you look at the totality of Tim's life and his work, I think there are elements that would bridge that divide" between progressive Democrats and more establishment Democrats who have fostered Clinton's drive for the White House.

Brown, the senator from Ohio who also has been mentioned as a potential running-mate, played down the divide, saying that now that former rival Bernie Sanders has endorsed Clinton, "the party is not in need of healing particularly. People are on board and ready to go."

They might be "ready to go" for Clinton, but many are holding out for a more progressive vice presidential pick.

Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Muslim who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, praised Kaine, but said, "I would prefer someone...who's really going to signal to the progressive base that we're going to make some advances on this income inequality people have been suffering from.”

(Reporting By Richard Cowan in Washington and Luciana Lopez in New York; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Amanda Becker in Washington; Editing by Caren Bohan)

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