Writing about potential Vice-Presidential selections is one of the more absurd realms of political speculation. Nonetheless, I wanted to present an idea that I hope will take Democratic approaches to selecting Vice-Presidents in a different direction than we have seen in most recent elections. Specifically, rather than choosing a running mate to create balance on a ticket for the purpose of shoring up perceived weakness in the Presidential nominee, it would be best to choose a running mate whose qualities reinforce the rationale behind the candidacy of the person at the top of the ticket.
Whatever people here may think of the Clinton Presidency, I think that Clinton's selection of Al Gore was the best running mate choice a nominee from either party has made in decades. Clinton ran on a dual platform of change, arguing that the country needed a shift away from Republicans and an older generation, and that the Democratic Party needed to shift away from traditional liberalism. He was a young Democrat proposing sweeping health care reform and a shift away from a Cold War national security budget, but he was also a DLC southerner who sought to make the party more "business friendly." Further, he won the nomination in 1992 largely on the strength of southern support on Super Tuesday and an electability argument that he could do the same in the general election. So, instead of "balancing" the ticket to compensate for his flaws by, say, selecting a member of the old, northern, liberal establishment as his running mate, he picked another young, white, DLC southerner who had run a virtually identical campaign four years earlier. Selecting Al Gore reinforced the message at the center of Clinton's campaign, rather than selecting someone who would balance and compensate for the qualities that Clinton lacked.
This strikes me as a smart approach, and different from the tactic employed by most other nominees. John Kerry, Al Gore, George Bush Jr., George Bush Sr., Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter all chose "balance" nominees that, instead of appealing to a broader range of voters, emphasized flaws at the top of the ticket. John Edwards was charismatic, populist and southern compared to the stiff, patrician, northeastern Kerry. Joe Lieberman was moralistic and anti-Clinton, supposedly "balancing" Al Gore's ties to Clinton scandals but instead emphasizing the Clinton scandals. Dick Cheney was experienced and accomplished, emphasizing Bush's perceived inexperience and incompetence, a problem Bush still faces. Jack Kemp was, well, I still don't get that one. Quayle was young and attractive, emphasizing Bush Sr.'s age and crust, a problem that helped to eventually undo him against Clinton. Lloyd Benson was southern and conservative, emphasizing the problems Reagan Democrats caused for Dems in the 1980's rather than helping to bridge intra-party gaps. Bush Sr. was viewed as a Republican moderate, emphasizing Reagan's perceived extremism ("voodoo economics," among others), a problem for Reagan that kept Carter in the campaign until the final two weeks. Mondale was a Midwestern populist, again emphasizing something that Carter was not.
Instead of shoring up perceived weakness in the top of the ticket, choosing a Vice-President on the basis of "balance" only seems to exacerbate those weaknesses. It makes more sense for a campaign to choose a Vice-President whose argument to become President is the same one put forth by the top of the ticket. Emphasize your strengths, not your weaknesses. Instead of publicly admitting to major flaws on your part, demonstrate comfort in your own skin, and with your rationale to become President.
Using this line of reasoning, here are some quick thoughts on who the major contenders should choose as their running mates:
Clinton is running on experience, leadership and the ability to get things done (including win elections). As such, she should probably choose Bill Richardson, whose campaign made a similar argument much of the year. Chris Dodd, Patty Murray and Wesley Clark would be other possibilities.
Edwards is running as a populist, progressive, anti-corruption fighter. As such, I think he should go with Eliot Spitzer or Russ Feingold, who have often run campaigns on similar platforms.
Obama is running on change, judgment and national unity. A little bit more difficult to figure this one out, but possibilities include Kathleen Sebelius (Obama has Kansas ties, and Sebelius is a red state Governor with lots of party switchers), new representatives like Patrick Murphy or Dave Loebsack (Loebsack was also a prof), and Republican Party switchers like Jim Jeffords and Jim Webb. This is a tricky one. What war opponents represent Obama's argument of both unity and change?
These selections are not meant to be definitive, but instead as a means of framing the Vice-Presidential decision process. Whoever wins the nomination should work to reinforce his or her argument to become President, rather than trying to balance it out.