Thursday, May 15, 2008


Last night, NPR did a story on how it was sad for Clinton that the media has now annointed Obama the candidate and ignored her win in WV. Which is to say, last night we heard the sound of taps. So the next fun parlor game is the veepstakes, one that has become increasingly common in watercooler chat. In my own thinking, it seems like Obama has a choice among several advantages. Choose the advantage, and the candidate follows pretty obviously.

Swing State Pick-up
In this scenario, you select a state where you are weak and find a candidate to shore up votes. The calculus is obvious, but this is often a mirage. The assumptive fallacy lies in the idea that voters for the local Senator/Governor will vote for the same candidate when s/he's on the bottom of the national ticket. But those crossover voters who back the candidate when s/he's running for senator or governor may not be as inclined to back Obama as president. In fact, historians argue that the only time this really panned out was in 1960, when LBJ put Texas in Kennedy's column and was the difference. So the theory is questionable. Still, it's awfully tempting, particularly given Obama's need for some juice in Ohio.

: Ted Strickland, Ohio gov, Ed Rendell, Penn gov, Claire McCaskill, Missouri Sen (bonus points, woman; see below). Longshot: Bill Nelson, FL Sen. I don't know that Strickland will bring votes over. Could be that someone like Jim Webb would actually appeal to the Ohioans Obama needs better than Strickland. Same with McCaskill and Nelson. Rendell I love because he's a great guy. But Obama's winning Pennsylvania easily in any case.

Another common gambit is the gap-filling veep, the guy or gal who helps round out the administration. In Obama's case, that means cred with Appalachian working-class whites or foreign policy/military background. The upside is that selecting such a person reassures the electorate that you have the bases covered (see Bush/Cheney). The downside is that it highlights the weakness at the top of the ticket.

Candidate: Jim Webb, Virginia Senator. His whole career has been made in the foreign policy sphere, and he seems to have little interest in anything else. He has the uber-cred among Appalachian whites, and has even written about them. With a son in Iraq, he rounds out the pro-troop, anti-war ticket. Downside is that he's a bad campaigner and a bit unvarnished.

There's a lot of talk of finding a sop to Hillary-backers (like the super-dud Evan Bayh, whom I disrespect enough to exclude him from swing-state contention), which I'll touch on. But in my mind, a woman would better meet the aspirations of Hillary-backers than some random affiliated pol. The upside is that it might more ably unify the ticket and bring women back in. The downside is that it may hurt among men.

Candidates: Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas gov, Claire McCaskill, Missouri Sen. McCaskill has been one of Obama's most outspoken supporters and is a tough and talented campaigner. I like her. Sebelius, whom everyone puts in front of McCaskill, is measured and slightly boring. And no way is Kansas in play. Dark horse: Susan Collins (see below), Republican senator of Maine.

Hillary Backer
Now that I've discredited this notion, I'll make a pitch for Ed Rendell, one of her most ardent and effective surrogates. I doubt any Hillary-voters outside of Pennsylvania will feel mollified by the selection of a surrogate, but Rendell is a character and would be an asset to Obama. He'd eat whomever McCain picks alive in debates.

This is a long-shot and for good reason. The GOP name is so badly damaged now that it's hard to see how it helps Obama. Except this: the strength of Obama's message is in his ability to come across as post-partisan. The selection of the right Republican could undermine the wayward swing voters who are sidling toward McCain.

Candidate: There's really only one I'd personally choose--Sen Susan Collins of Maine. Bloomberg's not really a Republican, and really amps up the "elite" charge; Chuck Hagel was against the war, but is a political arch-conservative; Colin Powell is too badly associated with the Bush administration and running two black men seems like a serious gamble. So Collins, the more liberal of the two Maine ladies, could be a winner. Maine politics is all about post-partisanism.

Unity/Dream Ticket
This brings us easily the worst idea of the campaign. Hillary gets Obama not a single vote he doesn't already have. All the folks who are saying they won't vote Obama in the general are either just angry now and will come back into the fold, or weren't going to vote for Hillary, either. (In WV, where Hillary made her biggest claim to the white working-class voters, the Democratic registration in '04 was 59.4%, but Bush won by 13%. In other words, these primary-voting Dems are general election Republicans.) On the other hand, she probably loses Obama millions of votes because she brings all the baggage from the Clinton years to the campaign. She undermines his post-partisan argument. She has no appreciable experience advantage, despite her claims of 35 years of experience. And she's not going to deliver him a state he wouldn't otherwise get. (Arkansas will not vote Obama even if Bill is on the undercard.) A horrible, horrible idea.

For the erstwhile Edwardians, now mostly clustering with the Obamaniacs, giving John the nod seems like the decent thing to do. Maybe so, but it's not smart. Like Clinton, Edwards brings you no votes you don't already have. Even in the Carolinas, his home states, he's less well-liked than Obama. He has played the working-class card well, but as a rich trial lawyer, he is not culturally the mill worker his father was. If you want to appeal to those voters, go with a Webb or Rendell. It's also probably the case that he doesn't want it. Apparently the reason he was waiting so long to endorse was because he thought Hillary was going to win and he wanted a position in her administration. He'll be happy to work in Obama's too--maybe as AG.

My Picks
Who would I go with? Rendell or Webb. Both shore up the hale and hearty white guy side of the ticket. Rendell will campaign tirelessly, Webb reluctantly. Both will crush their Republican counterpart in debates. Both are likeable and serious.

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