Let’s talk running mates.

We’re in an unusual situation, with a party split quite evenly between two candidates. In the past, we’ve seen the nominees select running mates as party reunification gestures. Kennedy did this with Johnson. Ford did it by dropping Nelson Rockefeller in favor of Bob Dole. Ronald Reagan did it with George Bush. With the exception of LBJ, these picks were not made with regional balance in mind, so much as ideological balance.

One of the running narratives of this campaign has been that there isn’t a whole lot of daylight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on policy. This is another way of saying that there really isn’t much of a difference between their ideologies. And that’s true on a very superficial level. If all you do is compare and contrast their position papers, you won’t find much beyond minutiae that distinguishes them from each other.

Dean vs. the DLC

The differences appear once you scratch the surface, as it becomes apparent that Clinton maintains the support of the Democratic Leadership Council, the old guard of the Clinton administration (meaning both veterans of the cabinet and DNC, and the pollsters and political consultants). This is reflected in everything from the braying of James Carville, Terry McAuliffe, and Lanny Davis, to the strategy laid out by Mark Penn and echoed by Doug Schoen. Some call it the 50+1 strategy of winning the Gore/Kerry states plus either Florida or Ohio. For four years now, these consultants and pollsters have been in a running gun battle with Howard Dean and the Netroots over everything from the 50-State Strategy to the ideological makeup of candidate recruits. The most raw demonstration of this philosophical difference was laid out in January 2007, when Paul Begala told a Kossack that he didn’t ‘need some a**hole from Vermont telling him what to do’.

Obama has chosen Dean’s 50-state strategy as a model for his campaign strategy. It may originally have been more out of necessity than any philosophical affinity, but it’s clear by now that Obama has taken to the strategy like a duck to water. Right now, his campaign is announcing a 50-state registration drive. Obama’s strategy, combined with Dean’s strategy, combined with the fact that this nominating process has now involved 44 states, all contribute to the rebuilding and revitalization of the Democratic Party in areas where the grass was growing in the sidewalks.

This is where there is a real ideological split between the two campaigns. And it is not the kind of ideological split that it makes sense to bridge in the selection of vice-presidential running mate. So, for example, there is no reason to reach out to the DLC/Old Clinton Guard by selecting Evan Bayh or Tom Carper or Harold Ford or Tom Vilsack. This wing of the party should be considered vanquished, and their strategy considered defunct.

The Gender Gap

But there are other rifts that have opened up during the nominating process. None is bigger than the gender gap. Woman have consistently preferred Clinton over Obama, and there is a great deal of raw emotion about Clinton’s failure to capture the nomination. One way of bridging this gap is for Obama to select a woman as his running mate. It isn’t a cure-all. For one thing, many people will see such a move as a slap in Clinton’s face. It’s not like women are interchangeable. Clarence Thomas was no substitute for Thurgood Marshall, and it won’t do to just pick any ol’ woman as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton and her supporters.

The Demographic Play

Another rift that has opened up has developed gradually and it has more regional than national ramifications. As the contest has grown more racially charged, Obama’s support has shifted to the left. His African-American support has become monolithic, and people that consider themselves ‘very liberal’ have become another reliable bloc. At the same time, Clinton’s support among white working class voters (in Appalachia and the Upper Midwest) has grown and hardened. Nowhere is this more clear than in Kentucky, where Obama is running thirty-one points behind Clinton in a matchup against McCain. However, this effect is not seen at all in other regions of the country.

Nonetheless, Obama has to take his weakness in this demographic group seriously, and it’s possible that he can do better with Appalachian/Upper Midwest white working class voters by picking a running mate that appeals to them. Likewise, selecting someone like Bill Richardson could solidify Obama’s support among the fastest growing demographic group in the country and put some Southwestern states in play.

New Kind of Politics vs. National Security/Experience

Another consideration is the decision on whether to reinforce his brand, which is based on a new kind of politics, or whether to compensate for potential weaknesses like inexperience and a lack of military service. Clinton was successful in his decision to reinforce his brand as a Southern moderate New Democrat with the selection of Al Gore. John Kerry took his own military credentials for granted and got burned by the selection of John Edwards.

The Important State Gambit

The last consideration is whether to pick a candidate because they can help you pick up an important state that you would otherwise lose. I’m not a big fan of using this strategy because very few politicians have the clout to actually make a decisive difference. But, when taken in combination with one or more other factors, a candidate’s pull in their home state is something to be weighed in the decision making process.


Candidates that will help with the gender gap: Governors Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Janet Napolitano of Arizona. Also, she’s kind of green, but…Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Demographic candidates: Governors Tim Kaine of Virginia and Ted Strickland of Ohio. Senators Jim Webb of Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

New Kind of Politics candidates: Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, plus…Sebelius, Napolitano, McCaskill, Kaine, Strickland, Webb, and Brown.

National Security candidates: Jim Webb, Sam Nunn, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, George Mitchell, Anthony Zinni, Wesley Clark.

Important state candidates: Tim Kaine and Jim Webb of Virginia. Ted Strickland and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Bill Nelson of Florida.

I continue to see Jim Webb as one of the strongest candidates because he helps in so many different categories. I also see Ted Strickland and Kathleen Sebelius as strong candidates. Bill Nelson has his attractions, as well. The only candidates from this list that I’d be displeased with are Nunn and Clark. I don’t see them adding enough dynamism to offset their damage to Obama’s brand. What do you think?

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