Saturday, August 23, 2008

Democratic veepstakes: 13th-hour edition

Near the top of the list of things I've meant to write for a few months now is a breakdown of the Democratic and Republican vice presidential contenders. Now that we seem to know the GOP's answer and are literally hours away from seeing Barack Obama standing next to his VP pick with our own eyes, it's a fine time to start emptying the archives. First up: a look at why Joe Biden won the Democratic veepstakes and a bunch of other people didn't.

Evan Bayh, U.S. senator, Indiana
Why him?: If you're into moderate Midwestern senators with executive experience who could put a traditionally Republican state into play, Bayh was your man. As a Hillary Clinton supporter during the primaries, he also could have brought some deeply disenchanted Dems back into the fold.

Why not?
: Were personal charisma to be an Olympic sport, he'd struggle to qualify for the quarterfinals. Those votes for the Iraq war and the bankruptcy bill also don't sit very well with the base.

Verdict
: On the short list. Faced Kathleen Sebelius for the bronze.

Joe Biden, U.S. senator, Delaware
Why him?: He has all kinds of foreign policy experience and likely will help with outreach to Catholics and older voters. He's also an amiable attack dog (which Obama needs) who effectively slammed the door on what was left of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign with that famous line about "a noun, a verb, and 9/11," which has to be worth something in its own right.

Why not?
: He cast the same Iraq war and bankruptcy bill votes as Bayh, though he later called the Iraq vote a mistake. In other news, at last check, Delaware still has only three electoral votes, all of which were going to the Democrats no matter what.

Verdict
: It's him. And I don't mean in the way that pundits were sure it was Hillary Clinton, and then Wesley Clark, and then Tim Kaine, and then... I mean in the way the Secret Service has begun providing him a detail and in the way the Official Campaign Text Message® said so. As it turns out, he is the guy.

Wesley Clark, Retired Army general, Arkansas
Why him?: You want foreign policy expertise and a guy who could reach out to alienated Clinton supporters? Um, yeah.

Why not?
: Mr. Personality and Mr. Political Experience he ain't. Besides, he may have taken himself out of the running with those remarks about John McCain getting shot down in Vietnam.

Verdict
: Along with Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, a favorite of defense-minded Democrats, but likely not strongly considered.

Hillary Clinton, U.S. senator, New York
Why her?: Remember the primaries? She got lots of votes. Obama would like to have those votes for himself this fall.

Why not?
: Anyone up for reliving endless discussion of Monica Lewinsky, Whitewater, Filegate, and Travelgate for anywhere from the next three months to the next eight years, as well as round-
the-clock speculation about what Bill Clinton is up to behind the scenes today? Didn't think so.

Verdict
: Despite the media's best efforts to shriek "Dream Team!" 24/7, probably considered only in passing, if that.

Chet Edwards, U.S. representative, Texas
Why him?: Because you're willing to take those 40/1 odds that John Parker Wilson will win the Heisman Trophy this season. I have no idea how or why this name ever got floated, other than as a favor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Why not?
: Who?

Verdict
: McCain may have had a marginally better chance.

Chuck Hagel, U.S. senator, Nebraska
Why him?: He was an early Republican critic of the Bush administration's Iraq war policy, and the nation always claims to appreciate a little bipartisan spirit.

Why not?
: Pretty deeply conservative on most things other than Iraq. Also, Republican. You try selling that at the Democratic convention and see how it goes.

Verdict
: Pie-in-the-sky hypothesis from a bored pundit class.

Tim Kaine, Governor, Virginia
Why him?: He's a young, charismatic Catholic with executive experience from a key swing state. As for shared personal narrative with Obama, they're both Harvard law graduates with mothers from the same Kansas town.

Why not?
: He's only been governor for two and a half years, and Obama really needed someone with decades of experience, particularly on the international front.

Verdict
: Probably the last one out. Silver medals don't break ties in the Senate, though.

Bill Richardson, Governor, New Mexico
Why him?: He had the broadest array of experience -- foreign and domestic -- of any of the Democratic presidential candidates. He also would have shored up New Mexico and made things very interesting across the Southwest.

Why not?
: His speaking style is dryer than one of his state's deserts, and the beard might rub some people the wrong way. (No pun intended.) The primaries also raised questions about whether his national electoral strength among Hispanics was overrated.

Verdict
: I'd like to think he received much stronger consideration than he actually did.

Brian Schweitzer, Governor, Montana
Why him?: He's a wildly popular governor whose libertarian streak could have appealed to residents of Western swing states and to working-class voters everywhere. He also has some very interesting ideas on energy independence.

Why not?
: Montana is small, and few people outside its borders know him. Plus, there was no guarantee that he even could have pulled the state's three electoral votes into the blue column.

Verdict
: Fun thought, but likely never seriously in the mix.

Kathleen Sebelius, Governor, Kansas
Why her?: She's a popular governor who knows how to get elected in a deeply red state and who erased a $1.1 billion budget deficit in a year without cutting education spending or raising taxes. Her selection would have been a strong outreach to women, too.

Why not?
: Kansas governors don't tend to have very high national profiles. They don't do much in the way of foreign affairs, either.

Verdict
: On the short list, but lacked the global experience that Obama was seeking. Battled Bayh for bronze.

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