Obama Needs A Woman On The Ticket
The general election campaign began with Tuesday night's victory speeches by John McCain and Barack Obama, and when nominations are set pundits need a new parlor game to play. Thus, the veep-stakes talk is sure to start. Hillary Clinton's last bastion of ardent supporters, older white women, face a demographic disappointment in her failure, and presumptive nominee Obama needs a way to address this.
While the historic identity politics of the 2008 Democratic race have swung more dramatically in Obama's favor, with his 90% margins with black voters, it's Clinton who has played the identity politics card more explicitly. It's hard to separate the identity politics from the candidate herself, but the explicit wish for a woman in the White House was often heard on the trail, especially from women who might be worried they won't see another woman get this close in their lifetimes.
Will they resent this young upstart, who could have waited his turn?
That's why Barack Obama needs a woman as his running mate.
It won't be Clinton, for a couple reasons. Personal incompatibility, for one, after a competitive campaign. That's hard to overcome successfully -- I said successfully, Kerry-Edwards fans. His own critique of Clinton -- "this isn't about experience, it's about judgment" - would be undercut by her presence on the ticket.
And then there's the matter of age. Obama says his decision to jump the queue was prompted by "the urgency of now," but the fact is Clinton-Obama would have made more chronological sense. In 2016, after a hypothetical eight year Clinton 44 presidency, Obama would be 55. But after eight years under Obama, Vice President Hillary Clinton would be 69 years old, near the upper limit of electability that the Republicans will test this fall with McCain. Sure, that's never been tested with a female candidate, but let's just assume the same age rules apply.
So, part three of the premise: If what Obama is trying to heal is the "I want a woman president before I die" rift, then the running mate has to be young enough to run in 2016 as his clear successor.
Let's draw that age line at 70. This means 62 or younger now, born in 1946 or later, and eliminates some prominent names, starting with the three Californians: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. (You could also easily argue that speaker to VP is a downward move.) It also eliminates the senior woman in the Senate, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
The last part of the premise relates more to message. Since Obama is explicitly running on change and judgment, and rejects the premise of "experience" as argued by Hillary Clinton and John McCain, experience is less important than compatibility.
People thought Al Gore was a terrible choice to balance Bill Clinton -- next door state, same age -- until they saw them together. There was a clear spark of compatibility, which lasted through the campaign if not into the administration, and they presented an explicit generational contrast to an aging Bush 41. That contrast is even sharper this year, as 46 year old Obama faces 71 year old McCain in the biggest age gap ever between nominees. With Obama's post-boomer sensibilities, his ability to use phrases like "shout out," "give it up for," and "in the house" without sounding ridiculous, younger may be better.
So we'll sort these potential running mates by age, youngest first, and look at the possibilities.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN) - 47 now, 56 in 2016. The freshman senator would help make Obama look experienced, with just a year in the Senate. She was Minneapolis district attorney for eight years before that. GOP governor Tim Pawlenty (who's on McCain's short list) would appoint a replacement. Maybe incumbent Norm Coleman, after Al Franken beats him. Klobuchar is still uncommitted in the presidential race. Her odds: Unlikely.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (AR) - 47 now, 56 in 2016. An Arkansas woman on the ticket: would Team Clinton see this as in your face? A Hillary endorser, which was a smart move at home. One of the more colorful stories of the "Year of the Woman" meme of 1992: a Congressional staffer who knocked off her former boss in a primary. Took 1996-98 off to have twins then moved up to the Senate. Moderate track record, focused on home state and ag issues. Democratic governor names replacement. Judgment meter problem: she was a yes vote on the Iraq War in 2002. Bets on Blanche: Plausible.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA) - age 49, 58 in two terms. Served one term in the House then lost in the `94 landslide and left politics for a dotcom career at Real Networks. (That would cost her the bloggers and geeks who despise the borderline spyware the company's Real Player has become.) Self-financed a narrow 2000 win, then lost the money in the dotcom crash. Clinton endorser. Judgment meter: Cantwell surprised a lot of folks with a yes vote on the war in 2002. Cantwell's chances: Slim but plausible.
Gov. Janet Napolitano (AZ) - 50 now, 58 in `16. Western state governor, nice contrast. Would take the fight to McCain's home state; she's term-limited in 2010 when his Senate term is also up and has been mentioned as a likely opponent. Political roots include a stint in the Clinton 42 Justice Department (which didn't stop her from endorsing Obama), followed by state attorney general. Janet for the job? A good bet.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (LA) - 52 years old now, 60 in 2016. Wrapping up second term. Caught some of the Katrina heat, but ex-Gov. Kathleen Blanco took the local political fall, and Bush administration manipulation (Republican Mississippi got faster help than Democratic Louisiana) was blatant. So a Louisianan on the ticker could be a powerful symbol. But Landrieu has the only truly tough re-election race for a Democrat this year, and if she dropped out it would effectively cede the Senate seat to the GOP. An uncommitted superdelegate. A yes war vote in 2002, weeks before a re-election that went to a runoff. Maybe Mary? No; will run for re-election.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO) - 54 now, 63 in eight years. Enthusiastic Obama backer in a swing state. Long career in the legislature, Jackson County courthouse (cue the Harry Truman imagery) and as state auditor. Lost a close governor's race in `04 after knocking the incumbent off in the primary, then won the Senate seat in `06. Open seat situation: The GOP governor is quitting and the Dems are favored to take over; resignation timing if elected would have to take that into account. Claire's chances: possible.
Sen. Patty Murray (WA) - 57 now, 66 on Election Day 2016. Another of the 1992 "Year of the Woman" women, she got the nickname "mom in tennis shoes" through terms on the school board and in the legislature, then took on a sex-scandalized incumbent in the Senate primary. He quit, she was in position and won. Judgment meter: No on the war, and eloquently and presciently argued, "What happens after the war? That will have as big an impact on our future peace and security. Will we be obligated to rebuild Iraq? If so, how? Our economy is reeling, our budget is in deficit, and we have no estimate of the cost of rebuilding." Clinton endorser. Probability on Patty: A better bet than Cantwell due to the war vote.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) - 57 now, 66 then. Before knocking off one term wonder Spencer Abraham in 2000, she spent two terms in the House and 16 years in the legislature. In the middle, she lost twice in 1994: in the governor's primary then again as the lieutenant governor running mate in the fall. Stabenow was a No on the war. She's endorsed Clinton, along with pretty much all the leadership of the Michigan Democratic Party, but could be an olive branch to delegate-free Michigan. (Michigan's governor, Jennifer Granholm, is constitutionally inelegible for the presidency since she was born a Canadian citizen.) The odds: A possibility.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (KS) - 59 now, 68 on election day 2016. Chair of Democratic Governor's Association. Would underscore the 50 state strategy in a big, big way, but Kansas doesn't rank in the top, say, 40 of Democratic priorities. Six years as governor, 16 years various offices before that. An Obama backer before his big caucus win. An Ohio connection; she's the daughter of former Gov. John Gilligan. Chances: Good.
Gov. Christine Gregoire (WA) - 60 now which makes her 69 after two terms. Up for re-election this year, barely won last time (Republicans still say she didn't.) Obama endorser. Twelve years as state attorney general, preceded by an appointed post as state environmental director. Possibility: Unlikely; of Washington's three contenders Murray is the best bet.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH) - 61 now, 70 in 2016. Senior woman in House; has represented Toledo since 1982. Leading NAFTA opponent for rust bucket appeal. A nay vote on the war, but a poor record on choice. Odds: Slim; better bet for a cabinet post.
A coda: Had things been reversed and Hillary Clinton looked like the nominee, and Obama were similarly off the short list, I would have argued she needed a black running mate, and recommended Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. That said, I'll let you readers chime in on Obama's choice.