Saturday, August 02, 2008

Predicting the Democratic Veepstakes: Tim Kaine vs. Joe Biden

Now here’s a post - predicting the Vice Presidential picks - that I’ve been intending to make for about two weeks now. I regret having not made it earlier, because as news and speculation about the issue heat up, some predictions become more obvious and less gutsy while others grow just plain obsolete. Still, it’s a fun parlor game I’ve been playing with friends in DC bars, and after so much blogging about the Anglican topics GAFCON and Lambeth, it’ll nice to return to my bread and butter with several posts in a row about politics. I’ll speculate about the Democrats today and be a bit gutsier with the Republicans on Monday. After that, I’ll take a break and post an easy vacation piece, then probably return to Anglican rants. Thank Heavens for the August recess and the Olympic Games; these dog days of summer should provide a nice break from keeping up with most things serious.

When I first began planning this post two weeks ago, my prediction for Obama’s VP was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden (a prediction that, admittedly, could very well be clouded by my own holdover bias from primary season). But then came this week’s shenanigan’s with Virginia Governor Tim Kaine – Obama and Kaine in DC at the same time, a secretive Obama schedule, Kaine dropping seductively positive hints, etc. All of a sudden to suggest that anyone other than Kaine was the front-runner for the position was very foolish indeed, and yet to predict Kaine as a VP wouldn’t be much better than predicting a Bush victory on November 9, 2004. Then just as quickly, halfway through the week, the buzz around Kaine disappeared and he himself start making less suggestive comments. What to make of it all?

I’m going to return to Biden and guess that he and Kaine are probably even favorites. Both seem to be in the running – Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic says the short list being vetted is down to Kaine, Biden, and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius. Politico adds former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn to that last, and the Washington Post has Indiana Senate Evan Bayh rather than Sibelius or Nunn.

I certainly hope it’s Biden. Kaine might not be a negative, but aside from the fact that he’s a Governor, he doesn’t add anything to the ticket, either. His one term as VA Governor doesn’t do much to balance out Obama’s inexperience and certainly doesn’t bring any sort of national security credentials to the ticket. He’s done nothing to make me think he should be first in line to become the party’s standard bearer in four to eight years, and whenever I think of him, I just remember that stupid eyebrow during his 2006 State of the Union response. Furthermore, I was talking to a former DCCC staffer this week who observed that just as Obama failed to win very many of the biggest swing states during the primaries (not that I think that matters), Kaine only won the VA Governorship because of outgoing Governor Mark Warner’s tireless campaign on his behalf. More importantly, Senator Jim Webb and former Governor Mark Warner are much more popular than Kaine, whose support demographics are rather similar to Obama’s anyway. What can Kaine add to the campaign trail that Webb and Warner haven’t already brought?

Biden, on the other hand, would be a great VP and a great VP candidate. Bob Herbert had an excellent column to that effect back in May, and Marc Ambinder as well in July. You want to balance out Obama’s inexperience while still managing to avoid a Beltway mentality? Biden has been in the Senate for 36 years but never lived in DC; he takes the train home to Delaware every night. You want national security credentials? Here’s the Senate’s leading expert on all things Pakistan and the only prominent US politician to propose any kind of a political solution for Iraq. This is the guy who helped convince Bill Clinton to end genocide in the Balkans, and on the domestic side of things, wrote the Violence Against Women Act and the Clinton Crime Law, and also kept Robert Bork off the Supreme Court. You want a compelling life’s story? His first wife and infant daughter died in a car wreck the month after his first election, he himself almost died from two brain hemorrhages in 1988, and his oldest son may soon deploy to Iraq. No, he doesn’t bring along a swing state, but he is a devout Roman Catholic who could help with certain voting blocs. You want a tough campaigner? This is the guy who famously told a Dartmouth audience last fall, “Rudy Giuliani, probably the most under qualified person since George Bush to seek the presidency… I mean think about it, Rudy Giuliani, there's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” And, according to Ambinder, “He's delivered three major foreign policy speeches [this spring], including one… that helped to influence how the Obama campaign frames John McCain's national security judgment.” More recently, Ambinder has also said, “Biden is flashy and might upstage Obama, but he'd be the best sheer campaigner and his selection would bring a jolt of enthusiasm to the Democratic ticket (as if it needed more).

And he’s got buzz – in addition to being on the still-being-vetted-short-list, one of his closest advisors accompanied Obama to Iraq.

Before Alter and Todd reported that the vetting process has narrowed down, I thought that Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed might be a big dark horse candidate. He’s been in the Senate a bit longer than Obama and sits on the Armed Services Committee, so he certainly helps on the experience and national security fronts. “Obama-Reed” has a nice ring to it, and all of a sudden he comes out of nowhere to accompany Obama to Iraq. He’s completely unknown, even to much of the press, but that just gives Obama the chance to roll him out and introduce him however he likes. As soon as I had this thought, Gerald Sieb of the Wall Street Journal said the same thing. But, our dark horse speculation seems to have been all for naught.

That just leaves Sibelius, Bayh, and Nunn. I don’t know much about Sibelius, although “female Midwestern Governor” certainly is an attractive resume. Still, the knock on her is that selecting a woman who isn’t Hillary Clinton would only tick off Clinton’s female supporters, making them feel patronized rather than placated. I can’t say anything negative about Bayh or Nunn’s chances or what they would bring to the ticket, but other than that I hope they don’t get the job. Bayh, a Clinton supporter from a red state with a purple hue, might actually be a good candidate and would probably be the first VP since LBJ in 1960 to truly swing a state, but I met him back in 2005 and was completely unimpressed. He seemed slick, like he was making up his answer to my question about poverty as he went and telling me what he thought I wanted to hear. Nunn, a Southerner with strong national security credentials who left DC a long time ago, might also make for a good ticket, but he doesn’t have the buzz he once had and I’d rather see him as Secretary of Defense anyway.

And what about Hillary Clinton? Well, given how unpopular she can be among Independents and Republican activists who might otherwise stay home, I never thought it would be her. For all her strength in the Democratic primaries, let’s remember that this woman is the Republicans’ biggest fundraiser. And sure enough, now that we’re down to the wire, she’s no longer being vetted and the independent group pushing for her selection has closed its doors. I also never thought it would be the pro-life, anti-tax, anti-gay Chuck Hagel, but was foolish enough to think that Mike Bloomberg had a squeaker of a chance.

On Monday, the Republicans. I’ll be a bit gutsier there and reject the conventional wisdom.


the cajun said...

Another good post, but I have reservations about Joe B. He's my senior senator, after all and I have worked on his (and, unfortunately, Carper's) campaigns in the past.
While I agree with you on many points about Joe, I really believe that Gen. Wesley Clark would be a great choice due to our current situation in the wars in the Middle East - especially having seen Clark's performances last decade in the Hague.
Joe is a good man, but enjoys being under the protective wing of Rahm and the DNC that he sometimes forgets that he can speak for himself and not parrot talking points of the party.

Nathan Empsall said...

I've always had reservations about Clark. He's clearly a competent and accomplished man, but he was known for having prickly relationships at the Pentagon, which makes me question his ability to work well with Congressional leaders and wonder how he would do as the nation's top diplomat. But it's all a mute point now anyway; it would seem he's no longer being vetted, probably because of the way the media distorted and decontexualized his comments to Bob Schieffer about McCain's war record. That was unfair, but that doesn't make it go away.

Biden is hardly under Rahm's protective wing. Rahm Emmanuel is purely a House guy; in his current role as head of the House Caucus and past role as head of the DCCC, he would have had no formal relationship with Biden. Anyways, I think he is one to talk for himself - he's the one who established our national security talking points for this election and was focused on Pakistan and Darfur when other candidates weren't. He bucked Obama on FISA, and was an incessent pain in Bill Clinton's butt, urging him to take various foreign policy actions.