The Obama Veepstakes: Defusing the Hillarybomb

By now, everyone knows that Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. His victory in the Montana primary pushed him over the top, so he now has a majority of delegates.

Obama gave a powerful speech about his victory last night addressing what lies ahead and even lauded Hillary Clinton's candidacy and her impact on the race. However, Clinton essentially stepped on his victory speech and stole a bit of the limelight by adding her name to Obama's shortlist and defiantly congratulating him on the race he has run, but not on the race he has won or the race that has just ended. Such a carefully crafted sentence is politically loaded and will ensure that until Obama chooses his vice president, this story will linger in the media. Notice how there are two competing storylines coming out of last night: "Who will Obama tap for vice president?" and "What does Clinton want?" Needless to say, Obama's camp is not amused.

Could Clinton's supporters be overstating their importance? Are traditional Democrats really going to vote for McCain even though they have such disagreements with McCain over the war in Iraq, the economy, abortion rights, and the environment? Are these Democrats really going to place their contempt for Obama over their economic well-being just to spite him?

Here are Obama's options:

1. Wait. Waiting will give Clinton's supporters a bit of time to get over their defeat. Over time, their emotions will cool down a bit and they will rally behind Obama because he will be their party's representative in November. Primary fights are brutal, but time should heal those wounds.

Also, waiting gives Clinton more time and more opportunities to disqualify herself from veep consideration. Obama probably does not want to have to deal with the Clintons (yes, the plural form) anymore, and almost certainly doesn't want to put her on his ticket because she contradicts so much of his message. (Read "Don't Expect an Obama-Clinton Ticket" for more information.) But if he's going to pass over her, he needs to find a reason that will come across as acceptable to the majority of her supporters. They want him to show her some respect. But any new Clinton gaffes, scandals, or attempts to minimize his victory or cast doubt on his electibility should be met with an all expenses paid trip off of his shortlist.

There is also a strategic advantage to waiting. McCain has not chosen his running mate yet, so Obama could afford to wait a bit. If McCain chooses his running mate first, then Obama could react to that selection with a more careful selection of his own. Choosing Clinton first would cede this opportunity to McCain. And if Obama chooses a running mate first, that would give the Republicans more time to conduct opposition research and attempt to define that candidate before he can do it on his own. Waiting would force a staredown with McCain.

2. Choose a woman not named Hillary. This is a double-edged sword. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius seems to be the most attractive female pick right now. As I argued in my first post about Obama's veepstakes, her geography alone will prevent her from being pegged as a liberal because "Kansas liberal" just doesn't resonate. As a woman, she could help Obama tap into the same base that turned out for Clinton. And because she comes from an agricultural state, she could help Obama make inroads with the other group of voters he has struggled with as of late--rural voters. This could be a boon to him in southern Ohio, central Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

Obviously, the problem with this option is that a lot of women may say that if Obama is going to choose a woman for his vice president, she should be Hillary Clinton. So choosing a female not named Hillary could be seen as the ultimate insult to Hillary Clinton and her supporters. Again, Clinton said she wants her voters "to be respected." This could place both Obama and Sebelius in a tough situation.

Another potential female pick would be Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She has been a vocal supporter of the presumptive nominee and could help deliver a state that Republicans cannot afford to lose. However, this selection seems a bit less likely because Missouri has a Republican governor and not just any Democrat could win a Senate seat in this fairly conservative state. This is also the argument against selecting Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

3. Choose a Clinton surrogate. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh were loyal Clinton supporters. Tapping one of them could be seen as an overture of respect because it would show that Obama is trying to bring the two camps together. Both of these picks should have Clinton's seal of approval. Rendell is a popular governor that would take Pennsylvania out of play and Bayh is the most popular politician in Indiana, a state that Obama could challenge with him on the ticket. Both politicians can appeal to rural working-class voters in Ohio and Michigan as well.

The disadvantage here is the same disadvantage Obama would face by choosing a female other than Clinton. Why take a resident of Hillaryland when you can take Hillary herself? Also, would choosing a male make it more difficult for the Obama ticket to reclaim Clinton's female voters?

4. Choose a Republican. This would be a bold selection that John McCain would have a difficult time parrying. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel would immediately bring military and foreign policy heft to Obama's ticket. And it would be proof positive that Obama is serious about "change" because Democrats don't select Republicans to be on their presidential tickets. Another advantage here is that the news about Obama reaching across the aisle to select a Republican would trump the news about Obama snubbing Clinton.

An unintended third advantage here would be that it would force John McCain to prove his bipartisan credentials as well. The best way he could do that would be to select Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. If McCain chose a Republican (Romney, Crist, Pawlenty, etc.), Obama could point to Hagel and say that he really does want to bring the nation together while McCain represented the old way of doing things. This would make it harder for McCain and his Republican running mate to start attacking "Democrats" and "liberals" because it plays into Obama's message of politics not being about "us vs. them." Also, McCain would have a harder time picking off Clinton's rural White voters if Hagel were on the ticket because 1) Hagel's a Republican, 2) Hagel's not a liberal, and 3) Hagel is pro-life, a popular position among rural voters.

5. Reject Clinton publicly, politely, and firmly. This is a risky move that would show voters that Obama is in control of the party now. After all, the idea of a failed candidate forcing his hand does not make Obama look presidential. Obama already has enough problems with his thin resume and the perception that he is weak, especially on terrorism. The Republicans would have a field day with this. "If he can't stand up to the Clintons, how could he stand up to Ahmadinejad?"

If Obama follows this path, he would have the liberty to conduct his veep search any way he wishes and without the "what does Clinton want?" storylines bogging him down. Clinton would then have to decide what she wants her legacy to be. She will have no choice but to support Obama regardless of her relationship to him because she does not want to be known as helping contribute to his defeat at the polls in November. If she wants to run for president again in 2012 (or 2016), she can't give anybody the idea that she did not work her heart out for her party's nominee in 2008. This option would remove Clinton's leverage, which would obviously enrage her supporters, many of whom still want her to take her fight for the nomination to the party convention in Denver.

Obama has several options available to him at present. He has the stage to himself now, but only if he takes it. Yes, Clinton is still a political force to be reckoned with, but regardless of "what Clinton wants," she must appreciate the reality of her current political situation.

Hillary Clinton may command the loyalty of millions of voters who may or may not be receptive to Obama, but she is in no position whatsoever to make any demands of Obama or to force his hand. He won the race, so he calls the shots. It is clearly his Democratic Party now, not hers. Hubris is what caused Clinton to lose the nomination in the first place. And if she overplays her hand in defiance, hubris may ultimately be what causes her to lose a spot on the November ticket as well.

15 comment(s):

Nancy said...

Oh please, there MUST be someone out there that can assure Obama of getting the votes necessary for the Presidency, but it certainly isn't Hillary!!!! If Democrats wanted her to win, they would have chosen her, and they didn't!!! She came out into the ring thinking that her money, fame, husband(?), and wonderfulness would just make her a shoe-in for the nomination, and look what happened, she lost, and boy, is she pissed at that, and her speech last night didn't indicate any support for Obama, so he doesn't need that on his ticket! He gained the win based on his own merit, and if it's meant to be, will will on his own merit, not hers!!!!

Brett said...

Sebelius or Rendell (I can't believe I forgot about him!) would probably be the best choice. Sebelius, being a popular woman governor, would cut off a lot of potential criticism of Obama for not picking Hillary at the pass - he definitely could not be said to have snubbed either woman or, as you described, agricultural people. Rendell wouldn't have that advantage, but getting Pennsylvania would be nice, and picking Rendell would show that Obama is trying to build some more bridges to the allies of his primary opponent.

I used to think Webb would be the best choice. Now I'm not so sure. There's more to Webb than meets the eye - did you know he's actually published a number of novels, and wrote the story for a major movie ("Rules of Engagement")?

independent voter said...

You know...I have voted dem for quite some time now... I voted for Gore when the election was stolen from him. I voted for Kerry. I voted for both Webb and Kaine here in VA. I also thought that the dem. party was democratic. What I witness this primary season was a "republic" system and not a democratic one. I now don't see much difference btw the dems and the republicans. McCain has always been a moderate. I am also interested in learning who which independent will be running. I don't think that I will be voting dem anything in the near future. Not for the House..Not for the Senate..Not for Gov...Not for the white house.

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

what ever is to happen, its touch and go situation

Brett said...

McCain is only "moderate" in the sense that he's taken some sensible positions that didn't square with his party leadership, like McCain-Feingold or the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Bill of 2005. Or Global Warming for that matter, where he's taken a pretty good stance.

In most areas, he's no different from an orthodox Republican. He's as socially conservative as any orthodox Republican, the more so since he's been kissing the butt of right-wing preachers like Hagee and the deceased Jerry Falwell for the past 8 years. His economic policies are similarly conservative - he's pro-free trade (which I agree with), pro-tax cut (which I don't), and so forth. If you vote for him because you think he's a moderate, then you are only deceiving yourself.

Anthony Palmer said...


I agree with your assement of McCain, but then where are moderates supposed to go?



The problem with Clinton's argument is that she wants to use superdelegates to override the pledged delegates...even though she criticizes Obama for not winning in the popular vote. So at what point is overturning an election result fair game?

Clinton offers many excuses for her defeat, but the reason why she lost is right in her mirror.



Maybe Lou Dobbs will run. Both McCain and Obama can credibly say they are independent, although I think the more appropriate term for them would be "bipartisan." An independent has no party loyalty whatsoever and is a bit less predictible.


To everyone:

McCain may be a little too cute by half by trying to appeal to the Clinton supporters by talking about how her popular vote victory over Obama was overturned unfairly by the delegate system. What if someone brings up the 2000 election and Al Gore? Would he then claim that Gore was robbed and that Bush's election was illegitimate?

PetPeeve said...

Either release the donors to the Clinton Library and Clinton Foundation or pack up your marbles and head home.



Brett said...

Moderates will have to carefully weigh what is most important to them, and choose from there. Not that many of them will do that - many moderate voters are heavy "personality" voters.

Thomas said...

I think a mistake Barack Obama made maybe a month ago was to continue to act like Hillary Clinton was still relevant. I would have done what John McCain did with Mike Huckabee. Huckabee kept running till McCain clinched the nomination but nobody was taking it seriously.

Granted I know the Democratic race was a whole lot closer than the Republican race. And it was strange for the media to bemoan how long the race was going on yet they kept on doing Hillary Clinton stories.

Hillary's campaign was over awhile back. Obama and the press just were behind the times in recognizing it.

DB said...

In the end, Clinton's supporters will rally to Obama. We know this, they know this, and the Republicans know this. What interested me most about this post is your comment about nominating a Rep VP. The concept is interesting but I think it is more of a long shot than Clinton or even Gore. He does need to reject Clinton or he validates everything that was wrong with her campaign, including Bill. Would another female not named Clinton be too much pandering? I think that might be a long shot as well. Just some thought. You got me thinking now lol.

Thomas said...


I don't think that Obama is endorsing everything about Clinton and her campaign if he choses her for veep. I think it means she is endorsing him and his campaign.

Anthony Palmer said...

You know what I think?

Al Gore lost the 2000 election because he didn't let Bill Clinton stump for him enough.

Ironically, Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 primaries because Bill Clinton should have stayed as far away from the campaign trail as possible.

Adding Hillary Clinton to the Obama ticket is a net negative. I think the Clinton era is history. She'll have to be a good soldier for now and hope she gets another chance in 2012 or 2016.

Freadom said...

I think it would be foolish for Obama to select Hill for VP, considering he has championed himself as a new kind of candidate. Likewise, Hill wouldnot want to risk Obama losing while she was burried in the VP seat. Likewise, if obama goes down either this year or in 2012, so does Clinton. Therefore, I think she would be foolish to tie herself to Obama.

Freadom said...

But, what do I know. We'll just have to wait and see how it plays out.

Khaki Elephant said...

I honestly think there is no chance that Obama will pick Clinton as a runnning mate, and not because of Hillary. It's because of her spouse.

Obama is fully aware that Bill Clinton is drawn to the spotlight like a moth. And a man who has says "Change" more often than a New York City toll booth worker cannot afford to have somebody like Bill Clinton fighting for center stage during every news cycle.

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