Monday, August 18, 2008

The Veepstakes

As we get to crunch time in the so-called Veepstakes (with Drudge via the New York Times reporting Barack Obama could announce his choice as early as Wednesday morning) it appears that the names for Obama are narrowed to the three which have been at the top of the list for months now: Senators Joe Biden and Evan Bayh and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.

And, maybe coincidentally, and maybe purposefully, each represents a different kind of Vice President and the reasons for selecting each are very different. Biden doesn't help Obama with any particular state on the electoral map (maybe he solidifies Pennsylvania, but I don't think that states in much jeopardy anyway) but he provides Obama with the veteran, foreign-policy expert many believe he needs, he's highly respected and has a national profile, and he "checks a lot of boxes" as Chuck Todd would say. Bayh seems to be an electoral choice. Indiana, a perpetually red state, is turning blue, in large part because of the economic woes, and in part because Obama's familiarity in neighboring Illinois. Bayh on the ticket could tip the state to Obama. And Bayh's very public support of Hillary Clinton doesn't hurt either as Obama tries, still, to soothe things over with Clinton supporters. And there's Tim Kaine. While Governor of Virginia, Obama will likely win or lose the state whether or not Kaine's on the ticket. So why Kaine? Obama and Kaine are close personally, so they will work well together, and Obama trusts Kaine, which is crucial with a VP pick. And Kaine is not part of the Washington establishment, like Biden (and to a lesser extent) Bayh, so he doubles down on the "change" message.

I think Bayh comes in third place here. He's perpetually on the short list for VP but never picked, and despite the desire to put Indiana in the Democratic column, I just don't think Obama's going to go with him. Which means it comes down to Bayh and Biden.

First, who I think Obama will select: Tim Kaine. While many in the national media have consistently said that Obama needs a foreign-policy guy as his VP (hence the talk of Biden, Wes Clark, and Sam Nunn), Obama has never signaled he was thinking that way. In fact, all of his public comments have been just the opposite. While some have called him cocky, and that may be a bridge too far, there is no doubt Obama is supremely confident in his foreign policy judgment. And with very good reason, as his prescient objections to the Iraq War prove. It doesn't seem like Obama believes that foreign policy is a real weakness which mandates the VP nail down that policy area. And Obama certainly seems like the kind of person that would value the personal relationship with his VP and the ability to trust that VP above all else. And there's no question Obama and Kaine are close, and both are simpatico when it comes to fundimentally changing how business is done in Washington.

The problem? Kaine's almost more inexperienced than Obama (he's been Governor for less than a full term), has zero national profile (and thus wouldn't help the ticket gain any steam or erase any doubts voters may have about Obama, and in fact, may enlarge the doubts people have), and he seems like a third choice from his state alone. With word leaking out last week (courtesy of Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic) that the Obama campaign was pressuring former Virginia Governor Mark Warner to submit his name to be vetted for VP (he declined to concentrate on his blowout of a US Senate Race and was subsequently named Keynote Speaker at the Democratic Convention next week) and with Senator Jim Webb, a perfect VP choice, also declining, Kaine's selection could (and maybe should) be seen as Obama settling. And one should never settle on the VP choice. And most importantly, should something happen to Obama, can you really imagine a President Kaine? Just think about that question for a minute.

Now, my choice would be Joe Biden. I was thoroughly impressed with Biden in the Democratic primaries. So much so that because the Michigan primary meant nothing, I planned on voting for Biden before I learned doing so would make my vote invalid. Nobody running for President (and perhaps nobody else, although, I reserve judgment out of respect for the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin) had a better understanding, knowledge, and ability to articulate a vision of the quagmire in Iraq and other foreign policy happenings than Biden. And while John McCain likes to tout his "Straight Talk Express" there is no doubt that Joe Biden will always tell you what he's thinking, and what he's honestly thinking, and to prove it, he's gotten himself into some trouble speaking his mind. He gives Obama the experience and gravitas Obama may lack, he'd be a huge asset to the country as Vice President. And he's instantly believable and credible as President. And , back to those "boxes" again. He's Catholic. He's blue collar. He's popular with the kinds of voters Obama may have a hard time attracting. And while Obama may be confident in his own foreign policy judgments (again, with good reasons), voters still aren't. Voters need to be convinced. Joe Biden will do that. People will feel much better about Obama as President with the knowledge he has somebody as his VP to support him. Maybe people shouldn't think like that, but they do, and Biden would instantly strengthen the ticket in ways Tim Kaine and Evan Bayh would not.

I hope I'm wrong, and I hope Biden is the pick. We should know by the end of the week. But, while Obama's heart may be leaning towards Kaine, he should make this choice with his head, and he should choose the Senator from Delaware.

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