Thursday, July 17, 2008


So I figure I might as well get my VP musings up before the candidates actually announce in August. First I must say that predicting who will be picked to be VP will inevitably fail because the first, and most important, criteria in a VP candidate is the relationship he or she has to the candidate. That information is not publicly available so any predictions of mine are doomed to failure. That being the case I will focus more on what I would do if I were in Obama or McCain’s shoes.

So, first I’ll lay down what I think is the criteria for being picked
1. Chemistry
This one is really simple; the candidate and potential VP need to like each other. You can’t give someone the codes to the missiles if you don’t like and trust them. For sure, candidates have won without good chemistry (see JFK and LBJ) but it’s probably the most important qualification.
2. Skills as a vice-president
a. Plausible surrogate
The VP needs someone who could be a believable president. This person should have decades (at least 15 years) as a public servant, at least 5 years on a national level either in the pentagon, a cabinet position, member of one of the legislative branches, or governor of a state. The VP pick also needs to be a plausible surrogate for the candidate’s beliefs i.e. he or she needs to be able to speak articulately about the candidate’s positions and act like zhe agrees with them.
b. Good XO
In completely the opposite direction this person needs to be an excellent XO. He or she needs to be good at taking direction and obeying orders. Not that they need to be totally silent, in fact they should have good advice and opinions to offer the president, but when he makes a decision they should be baking him 100%.
3. Balance the ticket
a. Qualifications
Obama has the following negative perceptions about him: he’s too inexperienced, he’s too liberal, he has problems with Latino voters, he has problems with Clinton supporters, and he has problems with white working class voters. McCain is seen as too old, not conservative enough (or too conservative depending on who you’re talking to), and unskilled at domestic politics. Whether these perceptions are true or not (debatable) picking a VP that makes one of these perceptions go away will be an important consideration.
b. Geography
Pundits seem to be saying that getting a VP from a particular state means that you will win that state in general election and I just don’t think that’s true. That being said, if you had a public official with a high popularity rating in a big swing state, who met all the other qualifications it would be very tempting to pick them.

Considering that criteria we go from millions of people down to about 100. This includes popular senators and representatives, popular governors, mayors of the biggest cities, former high ranking military officers, former senators and representatives, former governors, and possibly a few people from business.

Ok from that who would go onto my shortlist?
Obama’s choices break down into three categories:

1. The secret insider. Someone older who has a great deal of Washington experience but has been out of the field lately and thus can bring a message of experience AND a message of change to the ticket. My picks: Sam Nunn, Tom Daschle, or Al Gore
2. The rising star. Obama might pick another youngish person for VP. Probably someone with executive experience and a history of bringing government reform. My picks: Tim Kaine, Brian Schweitzer, or Kathleen Sebelius
3. The fighter. Someone who can really act as a point person on politics. Someone who can go to other countries and wrangle concessions or speak with authority on issues at the UN but who does not have a huge influence on policy. My picks: Bill Richardson or Chuck Hagel
4. Heavy weight. If Obama feels like his experience might be an issue in office or in the election he might pick a very experienced person to provide "weight" to the ticket. My picks: Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, or Colin Powell

I think McCain has less choice about who he can pick to be VP: he needs someone somewhat younger than him, with excellent domestic policy credentials, who can attract independents without pissing off conservatives too much. My picks: Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, or Charlie Crist.

The above I think is fairly plausible, it agrees with the analysts who’ve written on the subject and with the leaked information from the campaigns. So we have the short list, who should they actually pick? Again, this is not who I think they will pick -I can’t know that, I don’t know what the interpersonal chemistry is- this is who I would pick.

I think McCain should pick Sarah Palin.
Why? When you look at Sarah Palin and her record you can imagine a new face on the Republican party (although not one I’m super fond of). Pros: she’s young, she’s conservative, she’s about as far away from the Bush administration as you can be (literally), and she and McCain agree on many areas. Cons: not a ton of experience (might hurt arguments that Obama’s inexperienced), not a lot of appeal to independents.
What does McCain get? Picking Sarah Palin might do two things: energize the conservative base a bit, attract pro-life democrats, and attract people who are focused on domestic issues.
What does Palin get? A chance to be the president after McCain

I think Obama should pick Al Gore
Why? Gore can talk eloquently about change (see his book Assault on Reason), on many issues he’s fairly moderate, he’s been out of politics for long enough that most people will have forgotten the scandals associated with him, but at the same time he extensive legislative experience and foreign policy experience. Cons: he has even more name recognition that Obama.
What does Obama get? The most important thing he gets is a connection to the democratic establishment; I think Al Gore might help his numbers among Regan democrats and older democrats.
What does Gore get? Gore has been “taking a break” from politics for the last 8 years and has even said he isn’t trying to be VP, but not trying and refusing to serve are very different things. I think if he was approached and offered the opportunity to pass the environmental and technology laws he tried to pass earlier in his career he would be tempted.

Update: I guess Gore staffers read my blog. This morning he gave a pretty Shermanesque statement on serving as VP again so it's probably reasonable to count him out of the candidate pool. If not Gore the choices get a little murkier. Want to appeal to the democratic establishment? Pick Chris Dodd. Want reach across the isle? Pick Brian Schweitzer. I guess if I had to pick I'd plunk for Kathleen Sebelius but I'm not very confident about that.

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