Posted by Brad @ 10:12 pm on March 27th 2008

Obama VP Derby

We’ve sort of talked about potential running mates for McCain and Clinton, but we haven’t really gotten to Obama, save in some generalities.

Kos giving a half-assed weigh-in this morning has sort of spurred the conversation a bit. His short list:

Here’s my top three picks for Obama:

1. Bill Richardson
2. Kathleen Sebelius
3. Chris Dodd

They’ve all got their plusses and minuses. But if we got any of those three, I’d be ecstatic.

We’ve discussed here before about Sebelius being a good potential VP candidate for Obama. In particular, it makes such a huge amount of sense to pick a woman that it’s almost beyond debate, and Kathleen has got to be the top of a very short list. Kos, for his part, likes her both because of her success in Kansas in poaching Republicans to the Dark Side, as well as being a signifier of Obama’s 5-state potential. And, for the record, I honestly believe if he picked her, he would win Kansas, the first time a Democrat would have done so since 1964.

However, after her pretty dismal performance in the Democratic response to the last State of the Union, which I promise you Obama’s people were watching with great interest, I can’t help think she might have been passed over. But, like I said, the tendency to pick a woman has got to be about overpowering, and if they’re going for a woman, better than even odds that Kathleen would be the choice, and better than even odds that they are, indeed, going to go for a woman. As a choice, I think she’d be fine, and her pick may have some interesting ramifications particularly in the red Midwest. I don’t know that she’d hugely change anything, but she’d be a solid pick.

The amount of goodwill that Dodd has generated among the netroots and the progressive grassroots is hard to deny, and as regular readers know, I love me some Dodd (I wrote our endorsement for him, and were I a registered Democrat, would have voted for him back when he was still in the race). However, I don’t think the people that Dodd is ingratiated with are the people Obama is much worried about. Frankly, the people that love them some Dodd also are already pretty reliable Obama voters, and outside of people really interested in civil liberties, or kitchen table Democrats, his appeal, I’d have to think, is pretty limited (and for the record, CT is not a state Obama has to worry about much). I think the progressive grassroots should get behind Dodd for Majority Leader in the same way they did Dean for DNC chair, and as much as Dodd deserves, in some cosmic way, the honor of being a VP pick, I just don’t see that he adds much to the ticket.

Richardson is of course the one guy that would be a solid pick for EITHER Democratic candidate. And, against McCain, maybe the problem Obama apparently has with Latino voters isn’t as overstated as I sort of suspect it is. In any event, Richardson certainly has the whole experience thing nailed down, and he’d throw New Mexico back into play. But as one of our readers noted when we brought up his recent endorsement (and the possibility of him being a VP), he didn’t exactly distinguish himself through his own campaign. Plus, he’d have to shave his Zod beard, which might at this point be the source of all his power.

So, who do you think Obama would pair well with? I’ll say at the outset that I think Clinton or Edwards are probably out, or at least they damn well better be.

I’m still chewing on it myself, but I’ll throw a name out there: Joe Biden.

He is certainly prone to sticking his foot in his mouth, which he does frequently and with great aplomb. I’m not sure the all-important potential Delaware swing is a factor. He’s a Senator (and blah blah Senators don’t make good Presidential candidates blah blah) And he’s got a history.

But, he brings a lot to the ticket.

1. Serious-as-cancer foreign policy experience and expertise. There are very few Democrats that can speak on matters of foreign policy with as much credibility, authority, fluency, and verve as Joe Biden. Watching him grilling Condalezza Rice or laying into Generals and DoJ flacks on their insipid comments regarding the Middle East or civil rights in wartime is one of the few reasons to ever watch CSpan. Even in the Democratic debates, I think most everyone watching thought to themselves many, many times over the course of the campaign “Damn, that guy makes a lot of sense. Sucks that nobody’s going to vote for him”. To people wondering if Obama might be too green to seriously handle foreign policy crises, Biden over his shoulder, I think, provides them a powerful reason for a second look. In some senses, he could play a role similar to Dick Cheney, sans Concentrated Evil Flowing Through His Veins.

2. Attack dog Kung Fu. Biden’s got some teeth on him. He has no problem looking somebody dead in the eye and going at them. He’s not a bastard quite in the Richard Nixon vein, but he would certainly be highly effective as the painted warrior operating just below Obama’s High Ground. And that might be something Obama needs against somebody like McCain, who is going to go hard against Obama (on foreign policy in particular). McCain is unlikely to Swift Boat Obama, but he’s also not going to dogfight, and Obama, for better or worse, is somewhat acutely unable to meet in the center of the field on those sorts of things. I think Obama is actually massively under-rated for his own ability to dogfight—he’s got some teeth on him too. But stylistically, he wins those fights through parrying and contrast, through savvy. He’s a Sugar Ray, not an Iron Mike. He’ll need somebody against an opponent like McCain who is willing to lock horns and take things head on, and Biden loves nothing more. Those worried that Obama is not a fight might give his ticket a serious second look with Biden hitting the talk show circuits—and their opponents—every Sunday.

3. Centrist cred. Obama is already strong with Independents, but he’s going to have to tack to the center for the general, and the attacks that he’s the “Most Liberal Senator Alive” are already chambered. He has two swathes of right-leaning folks to please: DNC Clintonite Democrats, and the Reagan Democrats who are now reliable right-leaning Independents. Biden suits both. Compared to other names being floated around, say Feingold and Dodd, they’d play into that; Biden shores up Obama’s right flank, but not so egregiously as to lose any of his liberal base (like, say, Evan Bayh might for Clinton).

I think that, six months ago, Obama might have been able to afford a more progressive choice. But now, I think he’s likely going to come out of this primary not just with some bruises (and with a bunch of artillery against him loaded and ready), but also with some amount of Hope Fatigue. We’ll have heard a lot of his shtick already. Obama’s campaign is smart enough to know that, so I would expect that they’d be looking for a VP that might be able to cast Obama in a new light, and my suspicion is that that light isn’t “touchy feely hope-based progressive” but rather a “ready on Day One understands the dangers of the world and is prepared and able to face them head one without losing the things about America that make us great” sort of reinvention. Richardson and Sebelius, for instance, there would be nothing wrong with, but I’m not sure they get him anywhere in terms of a macro-level narrative, they just create a couple of interesting sidenotes and maybe some niche advantage here and there. Biden, I think, feeds into a changing of the game for Obama. He’d be my #1 choice, were I Obama right now.

What about you?


  1. I think I’d have to say Richards. I’ve already mentioned it once before. Since then I’ve started seeing other blogs toss his name around (it was inevitable, really, post-endorsement). I guess the crucial question the Obama campaign will have to ask itself is can Richardson help deliver the Southwest? Can he make a difference in Colorado too? If the answer is yes, and if he can truly help with the latino vote then I think it’s pretty much a no-brainer. Obama HAS to expand the map and of the people you have listed Richardson seems to have the most promise in that regard.

    I like Sebelius but I just can’t get over her horrible democratic response to the SotU address. I think you make a good argument for Biden, but I don’t see how really expands the map for Obama, especially against McCain.

    What about Gov. Kaine? Horrible democratic responses notwithstanding. What are your thoughts on him?

    Comment by tessellated — 3/27/2008 @ 10:40 pm

  2. I think expanding the map is overrated as a VP-picking strategy, frankly, except in exceptional cases. Really, which recent VP pick can you think of that was based on geography or turning this or that particular state? Cheney? Kemp? Bush I? Gore? Lieberman? Edwards? Sometimes regionalism matters somewhat (Northern vs. Southerner), and if it was a particularly crucial swing state that might play into it (being from Florida or Ohio or Minnesota/Wisconsin helps, currently, but I’m not sure New Mexico has much more value than, say, New Hampshire), but generally, I’d say thinking of it too linearly in terms of “which states does X flip for me?” is boxing yourself in.

    Richardson would surely solidify New Mexico and probably guarantee it (and I’m not sure the Democrats will win it this year otherwise), but where else in the Southwest is he going to help? Arizona? Texas? Maybe Nevada? Colorado is interesting, but I’m not sure how much risk there really is in Obama losing that to McCain.

    The demographic thing is interesting, being that McCain is the Republican nominee. I don’t think Obama has any particular problems with Latinos, or at least I think that’s overrated. They’re voting Clinton more, but so are women, and seniors, and people without college degrees. I’m not sure that says a lot about Obama’s inherent unlectability with those demographics so much as it does about just the specific dynamics of the individual race he finds himself in. In other words, I have no idea why I’d have any reason to suspect that Obama would have any more difficulty among Latino voters in a general than any Democrat would.

    Nevertheless, that is certainly one of Richardson’s two big draws (the other is experience), and he would have to make a short list. I’m just not sure that Obama mightn’t not be more worried about other facets of his campaign going into the general.

    Kaine would be an okay choice, I think, though Warner would have been better just because he’s a better politician (though Warner is going to bag himself an easy Senate seat, and that’s hard to pass up, and at some point he’ll make a formidable candidate for the top slot himself). Heck, I even think Virginia might be winnable for Obama too, with Kaine. Kaine, however, doesn’t quite have the experience yet—he’s only been serving for three years, in a state where his loss may very well flip the state red again, and I’m not sure what experience he does have is in the right places (foreign policy in particular). If Obama were going for an economic centrist sort of theme, or even just on basic governance/administration, Kaine would make the Top Three shortlist, but I suspect those aren’t high on the list of themes that the Obama campaign is going to run on, or have to face. And, as you say, Kaine hasn’t exactly been an impressive or charismatic politician, though he’s been popular enough.

    Comment by Brad — 3/27/2008 @ 11:05 pm

  3. One interesting name I heard being thrown around recently was actually Mike Bloomberg.

    I have no love for Bloomberg, and it’ll never happen, but it’s sort of interesting to think about, particularly given that I guarantee you McCain is at least tossing around the idea of giving the nod to Lieberman.

    Anyway, Marc Ambinder makes the best case one probably could for such a ticket.

    Comment by Brad — 3/27/2008 @ 11:17 pm

  4. Richardson’s ability to flip states may indeed be a pipe dream. Indeed that must be the question the Obama camp is asking itself right now. The states he would help with must be NM, NV, CO, and (ahem, maybe?) TX. I should clarify that with TX Richardson might be able to help put the Republicans on the defense. All that said, it probably really is all too easy to overstate the effect Richardson might have with these (or any other) states.

    Comment by tessellated — 3/27/2008 @ 11:23 pm

  5. Well, Texas is interesting. I’ve seen polls recently where Obama is literally running EVEN with McCain in a general election matchup. Obviously, that’s going to settle by fall (but it is an indication that Obama’s got some red state appeal, and that the focused extended campaign does add something rather than just be an avenue of destruction for the Democratic candidates).

    Arizona is out, and Obama wins Nevada pretty easily, but your point about being on the defense in Texas (and less so in Nevada) is worth noting. And, to be fair, Richardson DOES most likely put New Mexico solidly in the blue pocket. I’m not saying Richardson is a BAD pick, mind. I think your case for him is pretty much as good as mine. I’m just trying to make the argument for Biden, who I think is slightly more inspired a choice.

    Comment by Brad — 3/27/2008 @ 11:35 pm

  6. My feelings on the hope/experience meme are more or less the diametric opposite of Brad’s. I have attempted to envision a voter choosing Obama over McCain on the experience issue based on Obama’s VP pick; I cannot picture that voter.

    I think that the circumstances surrounding Obama’s winning of the nomination are going to require him to try to do something bold with the VP selection as opposed to playing it safe. The “new ideas” meme IS a functional one in Presidential politics. But Obama’s star is fading at the moment and it’s likely to fade more when he loses PA by double digits. The current close polls compare the idea of Obama, measured at the peak of his credibility, to the reality of McCain. The appeal of the Obama Idea is presently diminishing; he needs to re-establish his credentials as a reformer and bold thinker. And speeches alone will no longer do that for him.

    I also think it almost HAS to be a woman at this stage. The Gallup results this week demonstrated that Obama has a real problem retaining core Hillary supporters in the general election. I am very much of the opinion that Hillary’s supporters are not truly dedicated to Hillary so much as to the idea of Hillary, and that any woman of substance would likely be enough to re-engage their enthusiasm (McCain, by the way, would be extremely wise to select a woman, for exactly this reason, and ESPECIALLY if Obama fails to do so.)

    Bottom line: if Sebelius hadn’t botched the SOTU response so heinously, I think she’d be the very clear frontrunner. And she may be anyway–does anybody remember the horrendous nomination speech for Dukakis at the 1988 convention? Whatever happened to that guy?

    If not Sebelius, Senator Claire McCaskill (MO) is a possibility. I am not terribly bullish on McCaskill’s skills or record, and there’s the fact that the Dems would be effectively conceding a Senate seat should Obama win. Still, she brings to the table a lot of the same border-state cred that Sebelius does, and the Dems may feel they’re going to create such a lopsided margin in the Senate that it won’t matter.

    A dark horse to consider: the former Stephanie Herseth, whose new name I can never remember. By most accounts she’s more effective on the stump than I’ve seen either McCaskill or Sebelius to be. She also brings to the table the same benefits as the other two women, with nothing more to lose than a House seat.

    I have to think Richardson is now the prohibitive favorite among “safe choice” options. If not him, there’s always Kwame Kilpatrick, or maybe Jeremiah Moore.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/27/2008 @ 11:48 pm

  7. I was actually wondering about McCaskill, Rojas. Good point. I’ve been watching her ever since the flubbed SOTU response. I don’t think the chances for Sebelius are done, either, but I’m just not sure how she gets a chance to re-audition as it were.

    The concern over the women’s vote is real. It’s also hard to say how lasting it is. Have you looked at the internals of that poll you cite for evidence to support your idea that the McCain defectors are voting based on identity?

    I do agree with you that had Sebelius done merely not awful I’d be much more bullish on her.

    Comment by tessellated — 3/27/2008 @ 11:58 pm

  8. I have no proof of that claim, tess, just my instincts. But I daresay that my instincts on this election have been pretty good so far.

    Sandlin is the name. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Blue Dog Democrat, pro gun and a deficit hawk; proven winner in one of the reddest of red states; 38 years old. Maybe too young–but if boldness is the standard, Obama couldn’t be much bolder.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/28/2008 @ 12:07 am

  9. It will also be hilaaaarious if the Democrats pass over Hillary for a younger, prettier candidate.

    Comment by Brad — 3/28/2008 @ 12:14 am

  10. Meghan McCain vs. Chelsea Clinton in 2032

    Comment by tessellated — 3/28/2008 @ 12:21 am

  11. Hadn’t thought of that, Brad. It could backfire for exactly that reason.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/28/2008 @ 12:22 am

  12. I think Jim Webb is the stellar choice. Shore up the white vote and give him someone with strong military credentials and against the war. And an ex republican to boot.

    And it would give the dems a future candidate for Pres win or no win.

    Comment by daveg — 3/28/2008 @ 3:10 am

  13. Hmmm. Good call, daveg. He’d have “safe choice” potential equalling or exceeding Richardson’s. I can see Obama going in that direction, and for your reasons.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/28/2008 @ 8:46 am

  14. I just want to say how telling it is about this blog and its commenter’s attitude towards Clinton that no one suggested the most obvious VP pick of them all: Clinton.

    The thought turns my stomach.

    Comment by tessellated — 3/28/2008 @ 5:21 pm

  15. Her independent campaign for the Presidency will surely rule out a position as Obama’s running mate.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/28/2008 @ 11:00 pm

  16. John Edwards anybody?

    Name recognition, a message that resonates with people especially as the economy goes further into the tank closer to election, and a lot of union/social support.

    He was also the first man out and the best guy on policy from the beginning of the primaries, so much so that his policies became the skeleton structure of both Obama and Hillary.

    Just a thought

    Comment by thimbles — 3/30/2008 @ 4:08 am

  17. There are many, many, many substantive reasons why John Edwards would make a terrible VP selection for Obama. Allow me to just stick to the intangibles.

    The rap against Obama is going to be: he’s more ambitious than he is experienced, a well-spoken slick good-looking ultra-liberal who is trying to parlay that into the highest office of the land on the strength of platitudes and faux-concern for Joe Sixpack, the former of which he hasn’t successfully carried over into policy in the entirety of his short and unnoteworthy career, the latter of which is brazenly opportunist considering his tax bracket and lack of personal sacrifice. Though he claims to be about hope, his entire campaign theme seems to be “America sucks”. His greatest accomplishment so far in public life is a presidential campaign.

    Now, reflect for a moment on how John Edwards might enter into that narrative.

    Comment by Brad — 3/30/2008 @ 5:12 am

  18. I also don’t think that a VP definitely associated with a specific populist message (one that Obama’s dabbled with, such as in Ohio, but not fully embraced) is helpful even if it wasn’t Edwards. Unless Obama plans to embrace the message himself, and use the VP choice as an example to convince people, why do that (and if Obama decides to embrace Edwards crackpot economic garbage, I trust that sane people will desert him)?

    Comment by Adam — 3/30/2008 @ 8:51 am

  19. There’s no real reason for Obama to lurch leftwards with an Edwards VP for the general election. If anything expect a drifting towards the center. That’s not to say he will pick a centrist as VP, but don’t expect the major populist leftists like Edwards.

    Comment by Cameron — 3/30/2008 @ 12:48 pm

  20. Well, according to this, it probably won’t happen anywho:
    In the days after John Edwards’s withdrawal from the Democratic race, the political world expected his endorsement of Barack Obama would be forthcoming tout de suite. The neo-populist and the hopemonger had spent months tag-teaming Hillary Clinton, pillorying her as a creature of the status quo, not a champion of the kind of “big change” they both deem essential…

    But now two months have passed since Edwards dropped out—tempus fugit!—and still no endorsement. Why? According to a Democratic strategist unaligned with any campaign but with knowledge of the situation gleaned from all three camps, the answer is simple: Obama blew it. Speaking to Edwards on the day he exited the race, Obama came across as glib and aloof. His response to Edwards’s imprecations that he make poverty a central part of his agenda was shallow, perfunctory, pat. Clinton, by contrast, engaged Edwards in a lengthy policy discussion. Her affect was solicitous and respectful. When Clinton met Edwards face-to-face in North Carolina ten days later, her approach continued to impress; she even made headway with Elizabeth. Whereas in his Edwards sit-down, Obama dug himself in deeper, getting into a fight with Elizabeth about health care, insisting that his plan is universal (a position she considers a crock), high-handedly criticizing Clinton’s plan (and by extension Edwards’s) for its insurance mandate.

    And folks who are supporting John McCain really ought to lookout for their own glass houses before chucking around terms like “crackpot economic garbage”. Edwards’s policies were tame compared to those of Socialist Democratic Europe and Europe seems to be chugging along okay for itself. America has lunged so far in the other direction that half the time “crackpot” is conventional wisdom ie: alot of serious people responsible for economic deregulation, foreign policy, and unfunded tax cuts have been smoking alot of crack/pot over the last decade or so.

    Comment by thimbles — 3/31/2008 @ 11:33 am

  21. If that is the manner in which Edwards chooses a President, American politics is well rid of him.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/31/2008 @ 12:06 pm

  22. Edwards’s policies were tame compared to those of Socialist Democratic Europe and Europe seems to be chugging along okay for itself.

    So, clearly, is the US (although by putting the whole of Europe together like that you make the same bizarre mistake made by anti-European US conservatives, you will be pleased to hear). The anti-free trade message of Edwards is what I was referring to as ‘crackpot economic garbage’ and it is, as much as the immigration restrictionism embraced by many in the Republican party, not to mention by independent populist hacks like Lou Dobbs. The world’s a competitive place. Boo hoo.

    Comment by Adam — 3/31/2008 @ 4:26 pm

  23. So, clearly, is the US (although by putting the whole of Europe together like that you make the same bizarre mistake made by anti-European US conservatives, you will be pleased to hear).

    I was referring to the socialist democratic set of Europe, not the whole. Pity my poor wording.

    The anti-free trade message of Edwards is what I was referring to as ‘crackpot economic garbage’ and it is, as much as the immigration restrictionism embraced by many in the Republican party, not to mention by independent populist hacks like Lou Dobbs. The world’s a competitive place. Boo hoo.

    You see, this is the kind of conventional wisdom that’s cooked up from the crack spoon.

    Free trade is fine when you’ve got countries that have similar labor, environmental, and product safety protections because companies can compete on the measure of their merits versus the measure of their geographical boundaries. If a Japanese company makes a better, cheaper camera (or car) then the American company is forced to step up to the challenge or lose its domestic market. Better deal for the consumer, more innovation within the industry, a small danger of an international monopoly, but that’s one con amongst a lot of pros.

    What open/free trade is today is not competition between countries with similar protections. You’ve got China, Mexico, and Bermuda. You have countries that use lax environmental regulations and labor protections offering companies a permanent competitive advantage for doing business there. The force of these governments is being employed to prevent the social advances that North America has relied on, and now puts North America at a disadvantage internationally. Free trade, as currently defined, forces America to regress to compete with China.
    We can’t do that and remain a socially conscious democracy. Free trade, as currently defined, means we have to compete with Bermuda’s tax system.
    We can’t do that and remain a socially conscious funded democracy. How free trade works, as currently defined, is that countries compete for businesses by trying to offer them the most economically liberated conditions they can at the cost of their populations. Companies do not compete for international markets, labor workers, government regulators, and tax havens compete for corporate business.

    That’s bad for consumers who use the unregulated products and work in these unregulated environments, if they can work at all.

    Pointing this out is not crackpot economic populism, it’s common sense. Crackpot economic fundamentalism is what Edwards was railing against, and with good reason. If you want to brush your teeth with toothpaste made from anti-freeze in a slave labor market, go for. But if I object, I hope you can make a better argument than:

    The world’s a competitive place. Boo hoo.

    because that just isn’t good enough.

    Comment by thimbles — 4/1/2008 @ 2:25 am

  24. Your belief, then, is that the United States could overcome the competitive advantages offered by Chinese slave labor through the use of…a trade tariff?

    Just how large would this tariff have to be?

    Comment by Rojas — 4/1/2008 @ 9:18 am

  25. I can only assume that thimbles hates Chinese people. And probably Indian people, too (in fact, leave China out of it because they do have a nasty government, and consider the world’s largest democracy, instead). Heaven forbid they should make a dime and try to lift themselves out of poverty whilst producing cheaper stuff for American consumers. Thimbles’ recipe appears to be to prevent Indians, etc, from ever reaching that level playing field by stopping them from really getting a start by leveraging their natural advantages. So I ask again, what does he have against Indians?

    In the UK, during the industrial revolution and afterwards, there was a whimsical sort of worship of the idyllic pre-industrial rural environment, which was great except that that idyll never really existed in the first place. Some American conservatives do the same thing for some fictional 1950’s America. I’m not sure what past thimbles is calling for or whether it’s a completely new future, but I don’t understand how a policy that effectively attempts to limit trade across national boundaries in order to maintain old industries against competition from outside is going to be stable. The fact is that, for various reasons, some countries will have advantages against others; each country should work on its advantages and cede the ground on the other things. That’s just a logical use of resources. Over time, the relative balance of advantages will change and so the industrial focus has to change, too.

    If you wished to level the playing field, it should be through agreements that limit government subsidy of industry and agriculture (the US and EU subsidy of agriculture holds farmers in the Third World down, for example) and that limit tariffs and other anticompetitive practices (such as some forms of dumping). I can see that you might make some initial allowances for developing nations but the aim is to reach the steady state pretty quickly.

    Comment by Adam — 4/1/2008 @ 11:20 am

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