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Posted by on Mar 9, 2008 in Politics | 13 comments

Obama-Clinton? Clinton-Obama? Not This Year

It’s been the subject of speculation for weeks. Some pundits call it “the dream team.” Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been asked about it. And Bill Clinton pushed one version of it while stumping for his wife this week.

So, how likely is it that once one of them has the Democratic nomination for president, that Obama or Clinton will ask the other to become their running mate?

There is a particular sense to it. Such marriages of convenience between the numbers two main contenders for their parties’ nominations are thought to unite the parties and to shore up whatever perceived deficiencies exist in the top candidates with the strengths of their chief rivals.

In 1960, John Kennedy reassured a Southern region, traditionally Democratic but skeptical of his Roman Catholic faith, by asking Lyndon Johnson to be his Veep.

In 1980, after they sometimes seemed openly contemptuous of one another in their competition for the Republican nomination, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush patched things up to make up their party’s ticket.

So, if Obama becomes the nominee of the Democratic Party, would he name Clinton as his running mate? I doubt it.

For Obama, having Clinton onboard is too risky.

Several reasons. First, she is the most polarizing political figure in the United States. By most accounts, she has a 48% disapproval rating, a far larger figure for anyone ever nominated by a major political party.

On top of that, Obama’s stock in trade is “change.” No matter how hard she tries to package herself as the candidate for change, Clinton represents for many Americans the same old “trash and burn” politics of character assassination practiced by our two most recent presidents, one named Bush and the other named Clinton. Senator Clinton herself has seemed to practice that questionable art throughout this process, particularly in recent weeks when, desperate to catch up to Obama, she has gone deeply negative.

Obama’s greatest weakness entering the fall, especially if the economy improves, will be national security. Few Democrats will be able to offer credentials in this area comparable to those of John McCain, a military veteran and one who has established what I would regard as limited bona fides in this area over a period of decades. I say “limited” because, after all, McCain has never commanded military personnel, never been an ambassador, never worked at the State Department in a crisis situation, never been president. It’s hard to get national security experience apart from such circumstances.) And despite the now-famous “It’s three-o’clock in the morning…” Clinton TV ad, she is no more credentialed in this area than Obama.

And what if Clinton wins the nomination? Would she ask Obama to run with her?

The fact that Bill Clinton is pushing this idea indicates to me that Team Clinton is considering it. Desperation may be behind it. She is in second place with little mathematical prospect of overtaking Obama among elected delegates and the superdelegates unlikely to buck primary and caucus voters no matter how slim the Illinois senator’s margins of victory.

The Clinton-Obama trial balloon reminds me a bit of what Gary Hart tried in 1980. Locked in a battle for the Democratic nomination with Walter Mondale, he found his prospects dimming after Mondale announced that he’d asked New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate. The nomination, putting the first woman on a major party’s ticket, fired people’s imaginations and definitively tilted the race in Mondale’s direction. Hart said, “Me too. I’ll ask Ferraro to be my Veep as well.”

The Clintons seem to be saying of Obama, in spite of all the mud they’ve flung and are flinging his way, “If the people like Obama, we like him too. He’ll be on the ticket with Hillary.”

Furthermore, Obama would help Clinton. She has a solid lock on about 40-51% of the Democratic base, most of whom would vote for her in the fall even if they haven’t done so in the nominating process. But Obama could possibly help her to appeal to independents.

This is something she desperately would need should she be nominated. But whether independents with misgivings about politics as usual could get over their dislike of Clinton just because Obama is on the ticket is a question open to debate. And in fact, appearing on the ticket with Clinton in any combination would likely hurt Obama and take away his cache as a change agent. It’s doubtful he could bring many of his supporters with him to vote for Hillary Clinton.

But the bottom line is, I don’t think that Obama would personally choose to be Clinton’s Veep. He’s forty-six and can bide his time, awaiting an opportunity to become president later. Clinton is the only Democrat who can likely kick away the extraordinary prospects the Democrats had for winning the presidency this year. Polarizing and practiced in the worst political arts, she isn’t the change the general electorate is looking this year. Obama won’t want to tether his rising star to her likely sinking ship.

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