Who should Barack Obama choose as his running mate? This question might be an example of moving ahead of the discussion a little bit, but I have always found that in order to help frame a discussion it is important to start early. This is why, for example, I pointed out the dilemma of superdelegates deciding the Democratic nomination campaign the day before Super Tuesday, not the day afterward. While bloggers have the ability to create buzz, we have a very difficult time shaping an argument once it has already been brought up in larger, more established outlets of political discussion. I doubt that we would have had the same, decisive impact on the superdelegate argument (see here, here, here, here, and here) had we waited until after Super Tuesday to broach the issue. Media outlets, voters, superdelegates, and even the Clinton campaign all eventually came to take our side on superdelegates because we pushed the issue early.
I think the same thing needs to be done when selecting Obama's vice-president. As I hae written in the past (see here and here), the key is that Obama needs to pick a vice-president that reinforces his strengths, not one who balances out his perceived weakness. With this in mind, I believe the following criteria are absolutely necessary for Obama's running mate:
- Opposed the Iraq war from the start. This has been a centerpiece of his campaign since the beginning, and a constant source of attack on Hillary Clinton. At this point, he can't go and pick someone who supported the war before it began.
- Has not spent a long-time in the Senate Again, Obama has discussed the need for a change in Washington, D.C., as a centerpiece to his campaign. If he chooses a member of Congress who has spent a decade or more in the Senate, at best he will look like a hypocrite, and at worst he will look like he needs help to do the job. The decision to choose Cheney to balance out perceived inexperience and incompetence has plagued Bush from the start of his presidency, and left an indelible mark of perceived weakness, incompetence, and stupidity on his national image.
- Did not endorse one of Obama's opponents in the primary. The last thing we need is to have Obama's running mate on record supporting someone else in the campaign besides Obama. That always leads to unpleasant questions and soundbites
Since both will be central to his 2008 campaign, Obama needs to choose a vice-president who reinforces his message of change and judgment on Iraq. These three criteria actually present us with a pretty short list from the get-go, as only the following three current Democratic Senators meet the above criteria: Sherrod Brown (OH), Ben Cardin (MD), and Jim Webb (VA). I don't mean to in anyway diss Cardin, but compared to Brown and Webb, he just is not as strong a choice. Brown is an economic populist from Ohio, while Webb was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy from Virginia. Both would clearly be strong reinforcing picks, at least based on the criteria I presented above. Also, their Democratic Governors could replace them with another Democrat.
The list of potential Governors is longer, mainly because their record on Iraq is pretty much absent. Janet Napolitano (AZ), Bill Ritter (CO), Chet Culver (IA), Kathleen Sebelius (KS), Steve Beshear (KY), Deval Patrick (MA), Brian Schweitzer (MT), John Lynch (NH), Brad Henry (OK), Phil Bredesen (TN), Tim Kaine (VA), Chris Gregoire (WA), Joe Manchin (WV), Jim Doyle (WI) and Dave Freudenthal (WY) all meet the above criteria, as long as they opposed the Iraq war from the start. That almost certainly eliminates Henry and Freudenthal, given that they originally won in 2002 and in deep red states. Beshear is also a no-go, given that he has been Governor for about two months. Deval Patrick would be about as clear a reinforcing pick as one could find, however his approval rating is under 50% and is even causing potential electoral problems for Obama in Massachusetts. In fact, Culver and Gregorie all have iffy approval ratings, so it might be best to cross them off the list as well. Of the remaining group, Napolitano, Sevelius and Schweitzer are the strongest candidates, although once again I have to emphasize that I don't know where they stood on Iraq before it began.
So, unless Obama picks someone who is either not currently serving in office, or who is in the U.S. House, this already gives us a pretty short list of Sherrod Brown (OH), Janet Napolitano (AZ), Kathleen Sebelius (KS), Brian Schweitzer (MT) and Jim Webb (VA). Of these five, Sherrod Brown is unquestionably the progressive choice, and also comes from the most important state. By comparison, everyone else is pretty much a Blue Dog, even Webb and Schweitzer. I also like that Brown is an economic populist in a campaign where a weakening economy is a concern to many voters, but I do question the wisdom of a ticket entitled "Obama-Brown." (although that does reinforce Obama, in a certain way.) If someone can show me that Schweitzer opposed the war before it began, he might be an appealing option. Webb has a certain appeal to Obama's "unity" message, since he was a former Republican and a member of Ronald Reagan's cabinet. However, like Sebelius, he is also older than the rest of the group, to the extent that he probably does not make for a very good successor. Sebelius comments seems to pop up online here and there, but am I the only one who thinks it would be strange for Obama to pick an older woman from Kansas, given that his mother is from Kansas?
Surveying the field, I think that Sherrod Brown appears to be the strongest pick, with the other four worth consideration. Brown works well as a reinforcing pick, as suiting the needs of the ticket in the 2008 election, and as a successor who can build the progressive movement in the decade to come. Hopefully, his name will start to pop up some more once this discussion really gets underway in a couple of weeks.
Update: Discussions like these are inevitably rich, but I wanted to pick out some of the choicer bits that I have seen so far:
- Commenter Ron argues that Sebelius is actually pretty progressive. However, many others have been arguing that even if she is, her SOTU response was so poor that she might not be a strong national campaigner.
- Larkspr argues that Schweitzer did oppose, or at least probably opposed, the war before it began. That would make him a stronger candidate.
- Several people are arguing for Feingold. While he has served in Washington, D.C. for a while, he remains the epitome of the outsider despite it. I'd be cool with that.
- jlkenney argues that Sherrod Brown actually has been in D.C. for 16 years, if one counts his experience in the U.S. House.
Also, consider that whoever is chosen will be viewed as Obama's successor. What image do we want to present as the future, post-Obama face of the Democratic Party? It strikes me as very, very important that whoever is chosen is a progressive.
Update 2: The discussion has persuaded me to drop Napolitano from the short list in favor of adding Feingold. I don't get the idea of putting Gore on the VP slot. At all. Brown, Feingold, Seblius, Schweitzer and Webb are all interesting, and possibly quite strong, picks.