The veepstakes are on

Obama is making a careful choice, but the odds are that it won't be Hillary

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Of the many games of logic taught by the Jesuits, none beats tautologies.

Here's a recent example. Hillary Clinton fired Patti Solis Doyle as her campaign manager in March. In June, Barack Obama hired Patti Solis Doyle as campaign manager for the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, still to be named. Therefore, Clinton will not be Obama's nominee for vice-president of the United States.

At this point, seven weeks before the Democratic convention, the veepstakes is in full swing, but it is now widely assumed that Clinton will not be Obama's running mate.

Mind you, there's still time, and lots of good reasons, for Obama to reconsider.

For one thing, Clinton personifies Obama's new slogan, "Unity for Change," meant to bring the Democratic Party together. For another, she ran the closest second-place race of any candidate for a party's nomination since Ronald Reagan nearly wrested the Republican nomination from Gerald Ford in 1976. And she won where Obama needs to bolster his support in the fall - among women, older voters, the working class, Catholics and the so-called Reagan Democrats who come from all of the above.

Moreover, since the conclusion of the primaries, she has said and done all the right things, in all the right ways. Their joint appearance at Unity, N.H., in late June, was a superbly orchestrated political event, down to their colour co-ordinated blue pantsuit and necktie.

Her rhetoric was gracious, generous and unifying. Most of all, she was clearly not holding out for anything, which is the best reason for Obama to reconsider her.

It's true that she's a polarizing figure, but all of that has been fully priced in to her stock. The only real liability she comes with is him, as in Bill Clinton. As always, even when it's about her, it's usually about him. What would his role be in the campaign? And would Obama really want Bill Clinton hanging around the West Wing of the White House?

The answer to the question is - whatever helps Obama get there. Unless Obama wins, the question of what to do with Bill is moot.

And that is the only real consideration, in choosing a vice- president. There are others, mostly to do with balancing the ticket. If the presidential candidate is younger (Obama is only 46), the veep should be older (Clinton is 60). If one is from the left of the party, the other should bring it closer to the centre of American political gravity (both Obama and Clinton belong to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party). Regional balance is another consideration, usually along North-South lines. (Both Obama and Clinton are from northern states, and the Democrats will easily win her state of New York, with or without her on the ticket.)

And then there's the heart-beat-away-from-the-presidency thing. Who would be the best person to take over in the event of the death of a president?

Obama himself has said that, before taking office next January, this would be his most important executive decision. In other words, how he managed the process, and where it came out, would be significant tests of his competence. The worst-case comparison would be Tom Eaggleton, George McGovern's 1972 running mate, who turned out to have seen a shrink. McGovern dropped him, and went on to lose 49 states to Richard Nixon.

John Nance Garner, vice-president under Franklin Roosevelt, once famously observed that the vice-presidency wasn't "worth a pitcher of warm spit." But since Walter Mondale under Jimmy Carter, the vice-presidency has been a meaningful role in the executive branch. Al Gore, under Bill Clinton, and Dick Cheney, under Gorge W. Bush, have been fully engaged partners of their presidents.

But at the end of the day, the only important question is who can help the ticket win in November. In 1960, John F. Kennedy offered the vice-presidency to Lyndon B. Johnson, not because he was best qualified to succeed him, but because he made the Democracts competitive in the south, and delivered his home state of Texas. And that, in the math of the Electoral College, pushed Kennedy over the top. (It takes 270 votes to win; Kennedy received 303 votes, including 24 from Texas as well as those of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.)

Of all the 270 scenarios in play, Obama needs the most help in the south, and that could lead him to John Edwards of North Carolina. He was on the ticket with John Kerry in 2004, and failed to deliver his home state. But that was then, this is now, and Obama is a much better candidate than Kerry. Edwards is also a known commodity, with name recognition, and strong retail skills. Edwards's endorsement of Obama came late, after the North Carolina primary in May, but at a moment that stopped Clinton's momentum after her big win in West Virginia.

At that joint Obama-Edwards appearance, they looked very crisp and comfortable together. Which could one more reason for Obama to give Edwards the nod - they looked like a ticket.

 
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