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Frankly Assessing Obama's Short-List of VP Candidates

By June 11, 2008

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Presumed presidential nominee Barack Obama's short-list of VP possibles includes 14 Democratic leaders, including 3 governors and 11 current and former senators, per an alleged insider's list obtained by MSNBC.

The list looks generally credible to me, but conspicuously excludes a couple top candidates, and curiously includes several dubious picks.

Obama's fab-14 list of potential running mates, per MSNBC, are:

    The Governors
  • Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas - She's on everyone's list, except that of a handful of Hillary aficionados who weirdly insist that "it would be an insult to women" if Obama chose any woman but Clinton.

    Popular, interesting, superbly competent, moderate yet strongly pro-choice, a Democratic-blue governor elected twice in Republican-red Kansas. What's not to like? Ever-astute Camille Paglia smartly observed this week:

    "Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is Obama's best bet. She is a polished public presence who epitomizes that cordial, smoothly reassuring, and blandly generic WASPiness that has persistently defined the American power structure in business and government and that has weirdly resisted wave after wave of immigration since the mid-19th century. An Obama-Sebelius pairing would be visually vibrant and radiant, like a new day dawning."
  • Former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia - A successful, popular one-term governor from a crucial state, Warner was briefly an '08 presidential candidate, but is now running for the Senate in 2008. This gifted politico and business wunderkind who shares Bill Clinton's love of campaigning led an extraordinary economic turnaround for Virginia. Warner's only drawback may be his long hesitancy to oppose the Iraq War.

  • Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia - The current governor of red-turning-purple Virginia, Kaine is more moderate and lesser known nationally than Warner, but is equally popular in the Old Dominion state. A pro-life Catholic who took a year off from law school to work as a missionary in Honduras, Kaine could help Obama draw the Catholic vote that proved so elusive to Obama in the primary race.
    U.S. Senators
  • Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York - The pluses are obvious and persuasive: 17 million primary race votes; irresistible appeal to older, white women; staunch support in the Latino community. And she wants the job. But Clinton's negatives are formidable: Bill's tangled, intransparent finances since he left office; her strong negatives with independents and conservatives; and the elephant-in-the-room question: Can Hillary share the stage while peacably filling a second-banana position?

  • Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia - Former Navy Secretary under President Reagan, a much-decorated Vietnam War veteran, a pro-gun, virulently anti-Iraq War, populist-leaning leader with a maverick disposition not unlike the younger John McCain. Webb could be just the complement to Obama to draw the white-working class vote to the ticket. Webb could be the right person at exactly the right time.

    Early in his career, though, he uttered a few unfortunate sexist comments and was involved in the 1991 Tailhook scandal messiness. And a crucial question is: Is Webb's independent personality suited for the vice presidency?

  • Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware - This colorful six-term senator who chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee would bring substantial experience and knowledge to the Democratic ticket. But with his longtime lobbyist ties, it's difficult to understand how he exemplifies Obama's message of "change" and moving away from the same old politics. And the question must be asked: Would Biden's ebullient personality and bluntly outspoken ways overshadow the more methodical Obama?

  • Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut - Dodd is an outstanding senator and former Democratic party chair who speaks fluent Spanish, learned in his youthful years as a Peace Corps volunteer. As Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Dodd brings economic policy experience to an Obama ticket. If VP Selection Committee Caroline Kennedy holds sway, Dodd, who is ailing Uncle Teddy's BFF, may have an inside track. One drawback: In recent presidential elections, Americans voters don't vote for liberal New Englanders. And I'm not sure Dodd would serve as an effective foil to Obama's elitist label.

  • Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida - Really? Well, I suppose the two-term senator might deliver Florida to Democrats... but that's a big "maybe." As a devoted Hillary supporter, he might soothe the waters with Clintonites. But he's an incredibly moderate Democrat, not known nationally, and his eight-year Senate record is unremarkable. He's an affable guy, but his appeal outside of Florida is questionable.

  • Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts - I liked and voted for John Kerry in 2004, and greatly admire his consistently outspoken stance against the Iraq War and his courageous, principled opposition to the Vietnam War. Kerry was slimed shamelessly in the 2004 presidential election. But his time has passed. He adds nothing to improve Obama's electability to the White House.

  • Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana - This former two-term governor of Indiana was dubbed approvingly by the Wall Street Journal as "a genuinely fiscally conservative Democrat." Bayh also headed the pro-free trade, pro-business Democratic Leadership Council, whch is currently out of favor with Democratic rank-and-file. Sen. Bayh was briefly an '08 presidential candidate, but dropped out early for failure to attract attention. Bayh is closely associated with Hillary Clinton, and was one of her most loyal endorsers. While he could possibly deliver red-state Indiana to Obama, his marked lack of charisma is a real minus.

  • Sen Jack Reed of Rhode Island - Who??? Army veteran. West Point graduate. House member for six years where he focused on health and education issues. Two-term senator active on the Senate Armed Services, Appropriations, and Banking Committees. Seems nice enough on C-SPAN, albeit as charisma-challenged as Bayh, which is a handicap for national elections. But seriously... who?
    Former U.S. Senators
  • Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina - Says he doesn't want it, so why is he on the alleged list? Edwards is all "been there, done that" about the VP slot. Besides, wouldn't he make the perfect Labor Secretary, or possibly Attorney General, for President Obama?

  • Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota - This former Senate Majority Leader was defeated for reelection in 2004 after being targeted by the Bush administration, and tagged as "too liberal" for South Dakotans. Since leaving office, he's worked for a K Street Law/lobbyist firm and at Clinton-friendly think tank, Center for American Progress. Too old-style politics for the Obama ticket, and too much of a stylized helmet-hair appeal for the Obama youth movement.

  • Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia - Several moderate Republicans have told me that they might vote for an Obama ticket if it includes Sam Nunn. Problem is... until then, I barely knew who he was. Therein lies Nunn's problem. Nunn, a senator for 14 years, left office 12 years ago. Only two years younger than John McCain, Nunn's voting record was one of a southern conservative Democrat who voted with Republicans on innumerable social and economic issues.

    On the plus side, Nunn has a distinguished and admirable record of working to reduce the global threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and on national security and foreign policy issues. He would bring substantial credibility to an Obama ticket, and strongly draw votes from Republicans opposed to the Iraq war. The question is: Do Democrats want to go this conservative in their VP candidate?

Conspicuously (and wrongly, in my view) missing from Obama's alleged VP short-list:

(Photo taken of Obama and Webb on June 5, 2008, two days after Obama captured enough votes to win the Democratic '08 nomination: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


June 11, 2008 at 4:58 pm
(1) Tom Head says:

- The “don’t pick a woman; it would be an insult to women” line is really weird, and anti-feminist to boot. I can only assume the source of this sentiment is the McCain campaign, hoping to capitalize on identity politics in the event of a McCain/Palin ticket.

- Sebelius would be wonderful. Her only flaw is relative lack of foreign policy experience.

- Warner would be strong, but it would probably hand the Virginia Senate race to his Republican opponent. I don’t think he’ll chance it.

- I think Kaine would be a mistake.

- I’m increasingly warming up to the prospect of an Obama/Clinton ticket, but it would not be my first choice.

- I think Webb would be a mistake, given his opposition to women in the military, his views on Tailhook, and his support of the Confederate heritage movement. Webb as running mate would dramatically increase McCain’s gains among the Clinton demographic, especially if he chooses Palin or another woman as his own running mate.

- I can’t see Biden or Dodd as running mates because of their age and seniority, but they both have strong credentials to bring to the table and Biden is extremely charming.

- Nelson has a 12-year House record to go with his Senate record, and his status as a retired astronaut makes him unique. He’s as old as Biden or Dodd, but his popularity in Florida might make up for that.

- I don’t know why Kerry is even on the list. I agree with your assessment.

- I don’t think Bayh could deliver Indiana to Obama, and I think his minuses outweigh his plusses. Bayh would remind me too much of the last time a nominee picked a young, pretty-boy fiscal conservative from Indiana as his running mate.

- Reed’s credentials outweigh his lack of name recognition, but he has two former NATO Supreme Allied Commanders ahead of him in the “white male military vet with foreign policy experience” department, and Rhode Island isn’t exactly a swing state. Not one of the stronger options.

- I don’t know why Edwards is on the list, either. He didn’t deliver for Kerry; I don’t see how he would deliver for Obama. I agree that he belongs in an Obama cabinet, though.

- I don’t know why Daschle is on the list. Would be a very weird choice.

- Nunn is growing on me as a candidate. Obama/Nunn would be a very strong ticket, and Nunn could also bring Georgia (which Clinton carried twice, but never went to Gore or Kerry). I’m not convinced Nunn is all that conservative, and he left the Senate 13 years ago, back when Clinton was enthusiastically behind the Defense of Marriage Act and the Communications Decency Act. That said, at 70 he’s the oldest VP contender and would probably not be competitive as a 2016 nominee.

- I think Richardson has been offered SoS and, for whatever reason (possibly because there’s some nervousness surrounding the idea of selecting a ticket with no white people on it), seems to no longer be on the shortlist. I’d love an Obama/Richardson ticket, but I don’t think it’s in the cards.

- Wes Clark is okay, but have you looked at General James Jones? He’s another former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, former Marine commandant, special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, turned down the position of Bush administration deputy SoS twice.

- Napolitano is brilliant and Obama/Napolitano used to be my ideal ticket, but her views on immigration have turned me off and may have turned off Obama’s VP selection committee as well.

June 11, 2008 at 9:30 pm
(2) Mark Montigny says:

Absolutely the “don’t pick a woman but Hillary” nonsense is an oddball movement.

Hillary’s the strongest candidate at this point. She has wide appeal whereas most of the others do not.

Wesley Clark and Janet Napolitano are truly missing from the list. Clark shores up the working-class vote as military figures inevitably do. Napolitano would have been the strongest candidate had not Hillary made her disastrous-for-the-party run. She’s right on every single issue that counts and she damages McCain in the West where it’s most likely to count. I’m not certain she could pull Arizona out from under one of their favorite sons, but she could be what it takes in New Mexico and Colorado. Your assessment otherwise, with the exception of Webb who is now politically crippled by his association with pro-Confederate pride organizations, is well done.

June 11, 2008 at 11:52 pm
(3) John says:

Bill Nelson is a -two- term Senator from Florida.

June 12, 2008 at 10:47 am
(4) Chris L. says:

What lobbyists are Biden close allegedly to? I think you should back a statement like that up with a fact or two. I have been in Washington for over 25 years and it has always struck me odd, that Biden could have risen to such positions of authority without playing the lobbyist/PAC game like Gephardt and others. He is uniquely disdainful of most lobbyist and their money. In fact Biden did not have a PAC until two years ago. If you want to make the rap on relationships with lobbyists, there are others to whom it better fits.

June 12, 2008 at 11:23 am
(5) Robert Hamer says:

Okay, Deborah, why do you keep thinking up of cabinet positions for these Senators and governors? What, Senator or governor isn’t good enough for them? I mean, come on, Richardson for Secretary of State, John Edwards for Attorney General? I even remember in a previous entry you commented that you would like to see Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court!

These positions aren’t consolation prizes for politicians who didn’t make the Presidential or Vice Presidential ticket. These are serious jobs that require an incredible amount of expertise and experience. As far as I’m concerned, Clinton, Edwards, and Richardson are just one of many people who ran for President, and lost. Now, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, few even recieve the nomination, and even less get the job, but for cryin’ out loud, just because you ran doesn’t make you entitled to be on the winner’s cabinet! If Edwards really is the most qualified Attorney General Obama can think of, his presidency will already be off to a rocky start.

June 12, 2008 at 12:09 pm
(6) usliberals says:

Robert, I do so for two reasons:

1. Obama has announced his interest in doing just that. He has repeatedly cited a book (“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin) as his inspiration for such governance philosoophy. Apparently, Lincoln appointed his closest and toughest rivals to his cabinet, and made them all advisors. Obama’s admiration of this idea has been discussed repeatedly on “Meet the Press” and other such news shows.

2. From what I “hear,” Richardson and Edwards have expressed possible interest in being part of Obama’s cabinet and/or close circle of advisors.

I should have been clearer in explaining this.

June 12, 2008 at 1:35 pm
(7) Carla says:

Governor Mark Warner from Virginia is out of the running because this morning I have seen his Senate tv advertisement. There is a vacant seat.

June 12, 2008 at 2:40 pm
(8) Lynn Wickerham says:

No,no,no to Webb. He would suck all the progressiveness right out of Obama’s campaign. And, then, it becomes impossible to criticize McCain for his past/future bigotry if Webb is on our ticket.

June 13, 2008 at 11:16 am
(9) Jon Stewart says:

Steven T. Colbert

July 17, 2008 at 5:56 pm
(10) evan daniels says:

If obama want’s to win he need’s Hillary on the Ticket. Otherwise he will look like another John Kerry.

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