Obama's Veepstakes

Barack Obama lost last week's Pennsylvania primary by 10 points. Since then, Clinton and the media have been buzzing about the notion that Obama may actually be a weaker general election candidate than the former First Lady. This was the source of a good debate over at Not Very Bright, one of the more popular South Carolina bloggers. NVB correctly argued that even though Obama lost Pennsylvania, the fact remains that Clinton did not amass enough pledged delegates to make a difference. I disagreed and said that pledged delegates don't really matter because superdelegates' main responsibility is to nominate someone who can win in November, and not to simply echo the winner of the pledged delegate race. (Normally, these two ideas coincide, but this year might be different.)

However, this post will not address the electability of both candidates. Instead, I will just pretend that this race is over and that Barack Obama will be the nominee. Thus, the focus switches from how he can finally put Clinton away to whom he will tap as his running mate, which leads me to this post.

First, Obama's running mate must satisfy several preconditions:

1. This candidate cannot be a knuckle dragging partisan. Such a candidate would cancel out his message of unity.

2. This candidate must not be an Iraq defender. It would be ideal for Obama to tap someone who had similar "judgment" regarding the war, but politicians who have since come out against it probably aren't disqualified. This "judgment" is one of the cornerstones of his campaign, so he cannot choose a running mate who contradicts this.

3. This candidate should be able to appeal to Whites and rural voters. Obama is still smarting from his ill-conceived remarks about rural voters "clinging" to guns and religion. Blacks, liberal Whites, and urban voters were already in Obama's corner. More moderate and rural Whites were slowly warming up to him. They may have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt earlier, but taking Bittergate in conjunction with Michelle Obama's "proud" remarks and Jeremiah Wright might be too much for them to overlook. And there also remains a silent subset of the electorate that is simply uncomfortable voting for someone of color, as the Bradley effect suggests.

4. This candidate should be able to compensate for Obama's perceived weaknesses regarding experience and national defense. Tapping a Senate freshman or a one-term governor would not do much to quell the concerns about Obama not being ready for primetime.

5. This candidate should help heal the rift that has opened up between the Obama and Clinton camps. The acrimony between them is creating real divisions that risk sending Democrats to John McCain in November or keeping Democrats at home. This is not to say that Obama needs to ask Clinton to be his veep, but he does need to extend an olive branch somehow to her supporters, lest he risk having to spend precious weeks trying to win them back the hard way.

So let's address some of the more common names generating VP buzz:

John Edwards will not be on the bottom half of an Obama ticket. To start, Edwards already ran for VP and would probably loathe to do it a second time around. Secondly, Edwards was unable to deliver North Carolina for John Kerry in 2004, so his electoral heft is weak. And finally, Edwards has yet to endorse Obama--a point not lost on the Obama campaign. Maybe Obama would tap Edwards to be Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, or a poverty czar, but Vice President is probably out of the question.

A lot of people have been buzzing about Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. A former Republican with a strong military background, Webb would certainly enhance Obama's ticket by providing credibility on foreign affairs, national defense, and the ability to appeal to rural voters and gun owners. The problem with Webb, however, is that he is a perfect fit for Virginia as its junior senator. Should he be tapped for Vice President, his Senate seat would be lost. Yes, the governor of Virginia is a Democrat who would appoint a Democrat to replace Webb, but the most attractive candidate (former Governor Mark Warner) is already running for retiring Senator John Warner's seat. With the prospect of the Democrats making it to a filibuster-proof 60 Senate seats, Webb would probably be better off representing the people of Virginia.

General Wesley Clark would be an attractive option in that he would help bridge the gap between the Obama and Clinton camps. As a former NATO commander and four-star general, Clark would instantly give Obama's ticket the ability to go toe-to-toe with or even outdo John McCain when it comes to military affairs. It's hard to tell a retired four-star general that he is weak on defense. Clark would also probably deliver Arkansas and give McCain a run for his money in Virginia. Clark ran unsuccessfully for the White House in 2004 and only won the primary in Oklahoma before being forced to quit. Since then, he has improved his political skills and is probably a better campaigner now. This would be a smart pick for Obama.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson turned out to be one of the biggest busts of this year's presidential cycle. He had the ultimate resume, but turned out to be a disappointing candidate in the debates and struggled to connect with voters. However, now that the race for #1 is more or less settled, perhaps he can relax a bit more knowing that he simply has to run against John McCain instead of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Joe Biden at the same time. Richardson would be a tremendous help to Obama because he could help deliver the Latino vote and make New Mexico and Colorado more competitive. And the fact that Richardson drew the Clintons' ire (and was even called Judas) by endorsing Obama displayed a level of courage and loyalty that John Edwards has failed to do thus far. The National Rifle Association loves Richardson and he cannot be pegged as a tax-and-spend Democrat. But would a "black-brown" ticket be too much "change" for the nation to handle at once?

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius endorsed Obama and is highly popular in her state. She would be able to appeal to red state voters as well as female Clinton voters. If Obama wishes to heal the rift between his camp and Clinton's, she might be an attractive way to do so. White women form the base of Clinton's support and many of them are sticking with her because of the historical nature of her candidacy and the perception that her rivals and the media have been unfair to her because of it. But are they loyal to Clinton because she's a Clinton, or are they loyal to Clinton because she's a woman? If it's the latter, then Governor Sebelius may be able to help. If it's the former, Clinton's female supporters will either have to grudgingly accept Obama or simply stay home. Kansas is an overwhelmingly Republican state. Even with Sebelius on the ticket, it might be too much to ask of her to deliver it in a presidential election year.

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano also endorsed Obama early and is popular in her state. However, she was unable to deliver Arizona for Obama in the primary. And the fact that favorite son John McCain hails from Arizona, she probably couldn't deliver the state for him in November either. If Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee were the Republican nominee, maybe Napolitano would be a more attractive option. But John McCain eliminates her because of his popularity in her state.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appears unlikely. He has lots of money, but probably does not add much to an Obama ticket. His greatest assets are his personal wealth and the fact that he's an independent. That ties in nicely with Obama's message of unity. But what state could Bloomberg deliver? Obama should be able to win New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey without him. Thus, it's hard to see the argument for Bloomberg over other options.

Retiring Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska would be a fascinating choice for veep. Like Wesley Clark, Hagel gives Obama some much needed heft in terms of military and foreign affairs expertise. And as a Republican, he would definitely lend credibility to Obama's message of unity. A Hagel pick would show voters that Obama doesn't just talk about bipartisanship, but actually practices it. Hagel was considered part of the Unity '08 movement and was rumored to be considering a third-party ticket with Bloomberg. Surely he'd be receptive to running with Obama because they both have an interest in getting politicians of all stripes to work together. Having a split ticket like this would make it really hard for Republicans to paint Obama as an ultra liberal because ultra liberals don't select center-right Republicans as their running mates. And should John McCain choose independent Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate, a Hagel nod would offset it as far as "bipartisanship" is concerned. Hagel is well respected both in Nebraska and the Senate and would help Obama connect with rural Whites and Republicans who have soured on Iraq.

Former Vice President Al Gore could be an attractive option for Obama, although it's not certain whether Gore would be up for campaigning for anything other than the top job. Climate change and the environment are very important to him and he could have a greater impact on this from the White House than he could as a private citizen. Gore would please the Democratic base, but his appeal among Republicans would be limited. Independents who voted for Bush and regret having done so may be willing to give Gore a chance. The biggest problem with a Gore pick, however, is that he contradicts Obama's message of looking to the future. If Hillary Clinton is part of the past, wouldn't Al Gore be part of the past as well? It seems more likely that Gore would be an emergency consensus nominee (presidential, not vice presidential) in the event that chaos erupts at the party convention this summer and the superdelegates are deadlocked over Obama and Clinton. Gore's probably the most respected party elder who has yet to jump in the current food fight, but look for him to play some role in the process sometime in the future.

Hillary Clinton will not be on the bottom half of an Obama ticket. That was true when I first wrote about this in February and it's still true now. The fact is, she needs him far more than he needs her. If Clinton somehow became the nominee, she'd be obligated to tap him for veep or risk tearing the Democratic Party in half. Obama does not have this obligation to Clinton, however, even though it would be in his and the party's best interest to make some conciliatory gesture to her camp. This is what makes Wesley Clark the most obvious pick at present.

15 comment(s):

Brett said...

It's probably going to have to be Webb, although I don't know how popular he is in Virginia - if he ran with Obama, would it bring him the state?

None of the other candidates seem particularly attractive, although Richardson might be nice (I'm afraid of the reaction that you mentioned to some kind of "Minoriteam" ticket).

Thomas said...

I think Tom Daschle would be a good choice. He seems like a generally nice man who has been a big supporter of Obama and who was smeared out of his job as majority leader of the Senate.

Anthony Palmer said...


There are two problems with Daschle:

1. He represents a very small state that he might not even be able to deliver in the general election. The Dakotas voted for Bush by about a 3:2 ratio. This is why Joe Biden probably won't get the nod either.

2. Politicians who lost their last election are generally considered pariahs when it comes to VP prospects. This is why Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is still in the running for McCain. Had he lost in 2006, he would have been crossed off the list.



Webb would be an attractive pick for sure. But the problem becomes what will happen to his Senate seat. Yeah, a Democrat would be appointed to fill it, but would that Democrat be able to HOLD the seat in a general election? I don't think Webb could be beaten because he fits the state well. But appointing a weaker Democrat to fill it might cost the Dems a seat that they were lucky to win to begin with.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

u should read my take on this powell driver

Anthony Palmer said...


I think Powell looks attractive at first, but he has a big problem regarding Iraq because of how he promoted/defended the invasion at the beginning with the UN and all. He didn't have much choice in that he was following orders from higher up the food chain, but it really hurt his credibility. Democrats should be happy with Powell otherwise though. Moderate Republicans and Republicans in general can't peg him as a cut and runner either. But just like Bill Richardson, seeing those two dark-skinned politicians running for the two highest offices in the land might be too much "change" for the nation to handle at once, even though I think they'd do a great job together.

Personally, I think Powell could run at the head of an independent ticket and be more viable than Perot.

Thomas said...

I am not sure if I buy Jim Webb being picked by Barack Obama. I think Webb is someone who won't be controlled by anyone. I think by the time it comes for Obama to choose his veep, Obama will be so tired of people close to him saying things that could hurt him (Jeremiah Wright) that he will be very conservative in who he chooses.

Thomas said...

Anthony, what do you think about the comparison between Barack Obama and Robert Kennedy? What do you think of Robert Kennedy individually?

Brett said...

Anthony, does Webb have any serious prospective challengers for his seat? It was pretty difficult for him last time because he was facing a very popular George Allen (who probably would have run for the Republican nomination had he not made that idiotic "macaca" remark).

Anthony Palmer said...


I think Webb is a good fit for the VA Senate seat because he's a gun-toting moderate with a military background. A liberal Barbara Boxer-type candidate would never be able to hold that seat. Even though Northern Virginia (the DC suburbs) is becoming quite Democratic, the rest of the state, especially in the military city of Norfolk and the rural I-81 corridor are decidedly Republican. Webb is an acceptable Democrat for Republicans and is acceptably Republican for Democrats. I wouldn't be surprised if he ran for President in 2016 or so.

As for RFK, I think it's a shame that he was assassinated because I really think he had a lot of courage and was a much better advocate for the poor and for historically disadvantaged groups than the current candidates, including Obama and Edwards. It seems like a lot of progressive icons were slain during the 60s (MLK, JFK, RFK). That would have had a tremendous impact on the Supreme Court and probably would have accelerated racial/social reconciliation. After the RFK assassination, we ended up with Nixon and his famous "Southern strategy" which appealed to the worst elements of our society.

Very unfortunate. But I guess if RFK had lived, we never would have had Reagan. So who knows how Russia and the Cold War would have turned out.

Anthony Palmer said...


I don't think Webb has any serious challengers to his Senate seat, but if the seat were to become open, I would expect former Republican Rep. Tom Davis to try for it. He represented Northern Virginia and was a good moderate. Remember, Davis ran against former Gov. Gilmore in the GOP Senate primary for the privilege of losing to Mark Warner, so he definitely harbors higher ambitions. Davis couldn't beat Webb, but he could win an open seat. I think the DNC would lobby Webb heavily to keep him in Virginia.

Thomas said...

Hillary Clinton has been criticized for her decision to continue to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. I don't know if her decision is the right decision or the wrong decision. But if it is the wrong decision, she is not the only party guilty for keeping this nomination fight going. Other people to blame include undecided superdelegates and voters in primary states (like Pennsylvania) who continue to vote for Mrs. Clinton. These sets of people have kept hope alive in the Clinton campaign. Mrs. Clinton would have quit a long time ago but for the continuing support of voters in the so-called big states (Ohio, Texas, California, and Pennsylvania) and the seemingly inability of superdelegates to make up their minds.

I suspect that Barack Obama has deemed it impolite (and probably stupid from a political point of view) to criticize voters for dragging out the primary battle he is engaged in. He will need these same voters in the fall if he wants to have a chance of beating John McCain. But a case can be made that Mrs. Clinton has millions of people supporting her candidacy. Heck, near 2.5 million voted for her yesterday in Pennsylvania. I wonder how these people would feel if they felt that their ability to choose a candidate was taken away from them just because a long drawn out primary season is bad for the party. I suspect they would think a lack of choice is bad for the party too.

Millions of people in these primary states have at least some reservations about Mr. Obama. His scolding them for keeping the primary race going would just feed into the image of Mr. Obama thinking he is better than the average voter. Mr. Obama needs to think of the remaining primary states as small laboratories when he can continue to strengthen his message. Most people agree that he is getting better and better as a candidate. That is because he has been forced to by continuing competition from Mrs. Clinton. But much work remains on his part. Some weaknesses have emerged. Mr. Obama's so-called elitism needs to be debunked. I rather we work on this problem now rather than in October. But a problem that doesn't exist is that this primary season is going on way too long. Mr. Obama should just let it ride. Concentrate on fixing any perceived problems his campaign have. If anything, stop talking about Hillary Clinton and start talking about John McCain. John McCain never really talked about Mike Huckabee. He acted like a front-runner when he became the front-runner. Mr. Obama has been the front-runner for awhile now. He should start acting that role.

As things stand now, we have the constructed fiction that Hillary Clinton is alone in wanting her campaign to continue. This is obviously false. People in the upcoming primary states haven't got the memo saying this race is over. Mrs. Clinton is at least getting a look-see from voters in those states. Mr. Obama does control his own destiny though. If he would just beat Mrs. Clinton in one state that she is supposed to win, this race would be over. He hasn't done that yet. He will need to beat Mrs. Clinton to prove that he is a strong candidate for the fall. Her just dropping out could have the effect of showing that he could not beat someone who has proven to be a rather ineffective national candidate.

Anonymous said...

Gite asked:

Now that Obama is bitter against Wright and no longer clinging to his religion will his books help him?

From 'The Audacity of Hope': Lolo (Obama's step father) followed a brand of Islam ....I looked to Lolo for guidance."

From 'The Audacity Of Hope', I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction."

Mark in Austin said...


I have heard that Bob Graham is healthy. He is very popular in FL, has heft as former Chair of the Sen IntCom, and most of his peers are still Senators. He was against the Iraq invasion.

What do you think?

Anthony Palmer said...


Hey! Long time no see! (No pun intended with the MIA reference.) I think Bob Graham was Al Gore's biggest mistake because he would have been a far better VP choice than Lieberman.

How old is Graham anyway? I think he's been off the scene for so long that I fear he'd be seen as somewhat of a retread candidate--kinda like digging for something in the back of your closet. But then again, he does have gravitas and could probably deliver Florida. He doesn't appear to be an obvious pick, but I think Obama could easily do much worse.

Thomas said...

My original VP pick was Jim Webb, but I'm starting to doubt this selection due to concerns about his (real or perceived) views of women.

I'm now thinking it's more likely to be Wesley Clark; white male with military credentials, but I'm still concerned about his political skills.

Joe Biden would also be another good selection.

And a long shot is Al Gore. If anyone could pull this off, it would be Obama, but I doubt Gore would accept such a role (again). Gore has been unusually silent during this campaign. Makes me think there's something in the works.

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