Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama VP prospects abound, but few fit the bill

(Editor's note: Major media outlets are reporting that Barack Obama has selected Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate. For more, check out the Clarion Caller Blog.)

(Originally published 8/23/08)

Barack Obama is within hours of announcing his vice presidential pick.

Of course, we’ve been hearing that since the first of this week.

So let’s take a look at the list of contenders while we still can:

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh are believed to lead the pack. Kaine is a popular Democratic governor in a suddenly-swing state that hasn’t gone for a Democrat for president since at least 1968. He could do wonders for Obama in the South. But Kaine has literally no foreign policy experience, and that would leave Obama-Kaine vulnerable on that issue all the way to November – and possibly beyond.

Biden has all the foreign policy experience Obama could want. But he would be no help to Obama in the South, and he’s been in the Senate since 1972 – 14 years longer than McCain, whom Obama attacks as a “Washington insider.” Selling as an agent of change a 65-year-old senator who’s spent half his life in Washington would require a speech beyond even Obama’s superior oratorical capabilities.

Bayh is a steady-Eddie who isn’t prone to mistakes. He wouldn’t upstage Obama on the trail, and since he supported Hillary Clinton in the primary, his selection would be seen by many of her supporters as an olive branch to unite the party. But Bayh voted for the Iraq War. Swing state or no, Democrats wouldn’t approve of Obama “rewarding” Bayh in spite of that position, and Obama would have a hard time squaring Bayh’s selection with his pledge to choose someone who shares his ideas.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is a rising star whom Democratic Party leaders tapped to give her party’s response to President Bush’s State of the Union in January. Obama-Sebelius could give a nod to the millions of women who supported Hillary Clinton for president – just without all that Clinton baggage. But Sebelius lacks the foreign policy credentials that Obama needs if he’s going to be able to respond to McCain as he campaigns on his military service throughout the fall.

As for Hillary herself, some have suggested that Obama may be orchestrating a masterful head fake by focusing the attention on Kaine, Biden and Bayh to deflect it from his plans to select her. But as I said back in June, it can’t be a good thing that more than one pundit has used the phrase “food taster” in describing what Obama would need to make that partnership work. The poisonous darts of the primary are just too much to forget.

Other names have cropped up, including U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed and even Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel – a Republican. But none of these prospects offers the whole package.

That leaves us with former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Neither has led pundits’ speculation as they have reached fever pitch.

But beyond having what Obama needs to round out the ticket, both men have what it takes to be president.

And that’s what should drive Obama’s decision in the end.

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