Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Veepstakes: Obama's choice

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Marc Ambinder, Obama's veep vetters are focusing on four condenders:

  • Even Bayh;
  • Joe Biden;
  • Tim Kaine; and
  • Kathleen Sebelius.
"Based on discussions with high-level Obama aides, I do not get the impression that Obama has made up his mind yet. These aides do say that Obama is narrowing his choices."

According to Ambinder, Kaine and Sebelius are about governing, not campaigning, while Bayh and Biden are about legislating. The first two are outsiders, the second two are insiders. The first two are young and relatively unknown. The second two have loads of experience in Washington and "would be expected to do heavy lifting with allies and adversaries." (For more on Kaine, and the enthusiasm in Kaine-land, see WaPo. For a cogent critique of Ambinder's analysis, see Publius at Obsidian Wings: Given their lack of experience in Washington, Kaine and Sebelius can't be about governing. Instead, they are about campaigning, and about Obama winning certain key states: "They’re Red State pragmatic governors and the media would love the narrative." (Maybe the media would, at least at first, but I'm not sure they'd remain media darlings for long.) By contast, Biden "would be an excellent governing choice.")

But they are all, in Democratic terms, centrist. Kaine and Sebelius are red-state governors. Kaine, in particular, could help Obama win a key emerging swing state, Virginia. Each one would be a risky pick. I'm not sure how either would do on the national stage, but, given recent performances (say, giving the Democratic response to a State of the Union address), I'm not confident that either one would do all that well. At best, solid and unexciting. At worst, too obviously inexperienced, in way over their heads, criticized by the media and the Republicans alike, which could reinforce Obama's general lack of experience.

(Still, a relatively unknown governor could match up well against a relatively unknown governor on the other side -- say, if McCain were to pick Jindal or Pawlenty. The experience factor wouldn't matter quite as much, though McCain will still play the experience card against Obama no matter what.)

Bayh and Biden, by contrast, would be safer picks, I think, though Biden has an unpleasant knack for getting his foot stuck in his mouth and Bayh is immensely dull, too much the consummate career politician. Bayh could help with Indiana, another key emerging swing state, as well as with Hillary supporters (he was one of her prominent backers during the primary campaign), but I'm not sure this is a good year to be a Washington insider. Biden, on the other hand, would be riskier but also more dynamic out on the campaign trail. He also has extensive foreign policy experience. There is the risk that he could overshadow Obama in this area, also reinforcing Obama's lack of experience, but Obama has become a superstar statesman and would not easily be overshadowed. As well, I suspect that Biden would be kept in check by the campaign (or, at least, the Obama people would try to ensure that he doesn't dominate, or try to dominate, the ticket). Biden also comes with a lot of baggage, having run for president in the past and having been around for so long, but it's not like any of the others is without baggage, and, what's more, the Obama campaign has proven extremely capable at dealing with the media and the GOP smear machine.

(Biden or Bayh would match up well against Jindal or Pawlenty or Thune, in terms of experience, but, of course, experience in Washington can leave a nasty mark. If McCain were to go with someone with more experience, like Portman, Obama would do well to have even more experience on the ticket. And if it's Romney, well, both Biden and Bayh are strong enough not just to stand their ground against his attacks but to overwhelm him both on domestic and foreign policy.)

But... what about Hillary? I asked "why not" a while back, and some of her supporters are still pushing her name, but I doubt she'll get the nod. (Unless the Obama campaign is keeping her vetting secret and leaking other names to deflect media attention. Imagine what a story it would be were she to be picked, say, right after the Olympics. Imagine an Obama-Clinton ticket at the convention in Denver -- united, not divided. Imagine the momentum for Obama. I'm not saying I'm for it, but it makes sense, eh?)

For further analysis, see my recent Veepstakes posts here and here.

I made some predictions in those posts, and I predicted Biden in the second. He's not my prediction here -- I'll go with Kaine, who seems to be on the rise (though perhaps propelled more by the enthusiasm of his supporters than by anything else) -- but, of the four, he's my clear and overwhelming preference.

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  • Indiana is DEEP red. Forget Bayh. Kaine WILL help with VA, however - in fact, it could swing the whole election, if Obama picks up just one other Gore blue, but Bush '04 red state, like Iowa or New Mexico.

    Kansas - more deeply red than IN - forget it. Biden - DE is a given blue state. Biden does have foot and mouth disease, but he may have just the right foreign policy expertise to deflect the McCain onslaught.

    I wish Obama would be really bold and pick Barney Frank, a great progressive and a brilliant man, but I guess the country truly would NOT be ready for that -- too bad!

    By Blogger QueersOnTheRise, at 3:15 PM  

  • This is a very helpful and insightful analysis, Michael. Thanks, much.

    By Blogger Carol Gee, at 4:49 PM  

  • I'm not sure Kaine gives Obama anything that he wouldn't already have. Viriginia is already "bluing" and Kaine's success mirrors Obama's success in the primaries (i.e. college towns and NoVa. Hillary swept most of the state west of the Shenandoah, and Kaine wasn't that strong out there).

    Sebelius would be a better choice, but here's the problem that I see: she becomes a sacrificial lamb.

    She has to deliver Kansas. If she can't deliver Kansas for Obama, then her impact outside of Kansas will be negligible too. It's an all or nothing roll of the dice, and Obama doesn't seem like that kind of gambler.

    By Blogger Carl, at 4:50 PM  

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