Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Leach for VP?

Leach for VP?

In yesterday's conference call endorsing Barack Obama, Jim Leach suggested a fellow Republican, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, as Obama's running mate.

Jim, you were always a modest guy. If Obama's going to go with a Republican, how about you?

Lord, two years ago I never thought I'd say that.

The most partisan Democrats might scream at the notion of a Republican on the ticket. But Leach, at age 66 on Election Day 2008, would be an unlikely prospect for the White House in 2012 or 2016. And talk about the symbolism. In his pre-Congress diplomatic career, Leach literally worked side by side with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Leach is a far better fit on the issues than Hagel. Chuck Hagel wants to get the war over, true, but on every other issue he's a Big Red Nebraska conservative. Leach, on the other hand, had a voting record smack dab in the middle of the House during his 30 year career, is acceptable to Democrats on the choice issue, and represents a moderate Republican breed of cat that has been searching for a home ever since John Anderson left the party in 1980.

Leach is clearly a forgiving fellow, willing to overlook Obama's last minute campaign stop in Iowa City for Loebsack in 2006 that was literally right outside the door of his congressional office. And after the election, Leach, thinking of continuity and constituent service, turned over the lease on that very office to the Loebsack team. Even the phone number is the same.

Leach has also got a lot of appeal to Democrats. To get really, really micro, he might help in Iowa, which is in the Leaning Obama category but still not 100 percent safe. Leach carried the People's Republic of Johnson County more often than not during his 30 year tenure, which allowed him to hang on in a Democratic-leaning district until the R label proved to be too much in 2006. In retrospect, it wasn't a fluke that Dave Loebsack won; rather, it was remarkable that Leach held on as long as he did in such a blue district.

In his 2002 race, Leach signs appeared side by side with Tom Harkin signs in many yards. Leach voted no on the war that October, and while Democrats didn't want to punish Tom Harkin for voting yes, they wanted to reward Leach. His Democratic opponent, Julie Thomas, was left to say, about a day too late, that she would have voted no too. But an "I woulda" is never as good as an "I did."

Leach's campaign style also fits well with many of Obama's themes. He refused PAC money and ran on an "Integrity" theme. In his last campaign, the Republican Party dropped one negative mailer, complete with the classic ugly distorted picture of the opponent. It made the bearded professor look like Vladimir Ilyich Loebsack. Leach immediately put the kibosh on any more of that. Could he have won if he had gone scorched earth? Maybe. But only at the cost of his whole persona.

And that may be the down side to the Leach for VP boomlet. The running mate traditionally is the attack dog of the ticket, the bad cop of the good cop-bad cop team. That's a role that ill-suits Leach.

But Obama has talked about putting Republicans in his cabinet, and that seems like a better bet. Leach was mentioned as a possible U.N. ambassador in late 2006, just after his loss, but his war opposition probably ruled out any post in the loyalty ├╝ber alles Bush administration. That, or another diplomatic job, still sounds like a good job for Leach, who worked at the U.N. back when George H.W. was ambassador and was a high-ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee. A financial post might also be a good fit for the former Banking Committee chair. Maybe Obama needs a Mortgage Crisis Czar.

But if Barack Obama is going to go all-out with his theme of rising above partisanship, Jim Leach is a perfect fit.

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