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Friday, May 16, 2008

Barack Obama Veepstakes

Fresh off a two-part John McCain Veepstakes column (Part 1 and Part 2), it's now time to address the potential Vice-President spot for the likely Democratic nominee, Barack Obama.

Quick thoughts on the VP possibilities and traits: Picking a VP for Obama is difficult, as he would like a Washington outsider with executive experience, which almost always means a Governor. However, as Obama is someone with limited foreign policy experience, he would like someone with foreign policy or military experience, which almost always means a Senator. He wants someone that appeals to his supporters and Clinton supporters. He wants someone who pushes the issue of change and diversity, but he also doesn't want anyone but a white male, as it could be too much aesthetic change for the electorate to handle. Geography isn't as much of a priority as it used to be (Gore and Edwards didn't carry their own states, Lieberman was from predictably blue Connecticut), but should still be considered so the south and midwest is not alienated from down ticket races. Basically, Obama wants someone that doesn't exist.

So the task will be... who comes closest?

Considerations that did not make the list: Ted Strickland (would not accept), Phil Breseden (too old), Tim Kaine (pro-life), Ed Rendell (age, probably done with running for office), John Edwards (been there, done that), Claire McCaskill (green, vacant Senate seat), Evan Bayh (too close to Clinton, Presidential aspirations in 2012 or 2016), Mark Warner (wants John Warner's Senate seat).

10. Wesley Clark (Former Supreme Commander NATO Allied Forces, Illinois)
Both parties love him, he would be an incredibly capable advisor in military policy for the green Obama, he is practically attack proof from the Republican propaganda machine, and he’s fluent in four languages (which is about four more than our current President). He also has roots in the Midwest, making an Obama-Clark ticket as competitive across the country as the Democrats have had since the Clinton elections. It would be an added delight for Democrats to see Clark run circles around the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee on foreign policy, especially if it's a governor like most people expect.

Of course, he's not a perfect candidate. Clark simply has no realistic experiences in running for office. His late and short run in 2004 was a blip on the radar. You'd have to go back to Eisenhower in '52 to find a candidate with less political experience on a major ticket (apologies to the late Admiral Stockdale).

9. Russ Feingold (Senator, Wisconsin)
No candidate has a better voting track record in the Democratic Party. Senator Feingold is the only Senator to have voted against the USA Patriot Act. (When he cast that vote, some thought his career was over. This is the epitome of a Feingold stance; sticking up for what he thinks is right instead of what is best for his politics.) He was one of 23 Senators to vote against giving President Bush permission to use force in Iraq. Now, of course, many Senators who supported it are wishing they could retroactively change their vote.

The problem is, his greatest strengths as a Democrat would really hurt his chances on a general election ticket. He is probably the most liberal and progressive Senator in the chamber. He is liberal on campaign finance reform, fair trade policies, allowing gays to marry, health care reform, conservation and environmental protection, a multilateral foreign policy, Social Security, abolishing the death penalty, and eliminating wasteful spending. He could scare the heck out of moderates, who will be fought over more than ever in a McCain vs. Obama election. Because of this, the Dems probably don't risk putting up Feingold.

8. Jeremiah Wright (Pastor, Illinois)
Just kidding.

8. Joe Biden (Senator, Delaware)
Joe Biden could be a very valuable Vice-President. I can see a President making Biden the point-man on Iraq. No Democrat is more knowledgeable on the situation and equipped to deal with it. Biden should accept an offer from Obama if propositioned, as this election is Biden's last whiff of the White House.

Senator Biden has been a harsh critic of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy. Biden chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee and is one of the longest tenured Senators, serving in the upper chamber since he was 30 years old. Of course, that might be his biggest weakness, as well. Obama has spoken so much about leaving behind the politics of the last generation and looking towards the future. Biden is an insider and Biden is a dinosaur in the Senate. It doesn't mold too well with Obama's rhetoric. Regardless, I consider Biden and Bill Richardson as the leading candidates for Secretary of State.

7. Kathleen Sebelius (Governor, Kansas)There are three realistic women that Obama could take if he wants to attempt to hold support of women after he officially defeats Clinton. Missouri junior Senator Claire McCaskill is one, but her lack of experience (elected to Senate in the last midterm) in foreign policy or military affairs would really worry the country that there are two newbies on the ballot together. Plus, McCaskill, in a victory, would have to vacate her Senate seat, just like Obama, meaning two Democratic Senators are lost in the opening months of Obama's first term. Therefore, Sebelius is a wiser choice.

Like McCaskill, Sebelius is a popular female figure from a red 2004 state. Democrats think highly enough of Sebelius that they allowed her to give the response to President Bush's final State of the Union last January. If she's on the ticket, the country would see that Obama is indeed reaching out to 50 states, rather than the "Hold the 2004 states and win one more (Ohio/Florida)."

But will the Democrats really risk running a black man and white woman in the same election unless forced into it? Methinks not.

6. Michael Easley (Governor, North Carolina)
Easley brings to the table much of what is desired for Obama's Vice-President. He balances Obama's geography, he has executive experience, and it's an unofficial olive branch to Clinton's supporters, as Governor Easley was firmly in her camp. Additionally, between Obama's African-American support and Easley's governorship, these two could do what John Kerry and John Edwards couldn't do in 2004... win North Carolina.

Then again, Obama didn't mold himself into a progressive candidate just to bring a centrist along as his #2. That is not the direction to which the Democratic Party wants to go after an Obama Administration. Additionally, it remains to be seen if Clinton's supporters (Easley, Bayh, etc.) can passionately and persuasively campaign for the man who vanquished her. Finally, Easley's complete lack of national or foreign policy experience (he's been a Governor and state Attorney General) would bring little gravitas to the ticket.

Part 2 next week some time. Five names left. Feel free to leave your predictions.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

John McCain Veepstakes (Part 2)

Here is the conclusion to the John McCain Veepstakes. If you missed it, Part 1 was yesterday.

5. Charlie Crist (Governor, Florida)When looking at electoral math, this guy jumps out. Like his predecessor, Jeb Bush, he's extraordinarily popular in Florida, and if Republicans want to hold onto the White House, they must hold onto Florida. His endorsement of McCain before the Florida Primary might have been the difference when McCain delivered the late round knockdown blow to Mitt Romney. However, Crist's executive experience is limited, as he's been governor for only two years. Moreover, while he would keep Florida red, his popularity will not extend to any other state or region.

4. John Thune (Senator, South Dakota)
He's young (47), extremely conservative (100% in 2006), and is a quasi-hero in the party after knocking off Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle in 2004. Moreover, he's fervently supporting the McCain campaign, which will help with skeptical conservatives. Unfortunately, two senators on a ticket have no executive experience, and fiscal management experience is crucial in this election. Moreover, South Dakota is hardly an advantageous state for a Republican ticket, as its three electoral votes are not in danger, nor is South Dakota a bellwether state for its surrounding region.

3. Mitt Romney (Former Governor, Massachusetts)Back in early February, Romney dropped out of the race for the same reason Huckabee stayed in it. They both want to be considered for the VP nomination by the guy who beat them. Huckabee's strategy was that if he won enough states, McCain would just want to end the primary as soon as possible by offering the #2 spot to Huckabee. However, McCain's easy disposal of Huckabee means that McCain has no reason to invite Huckabee, aside from a couple reasons mentioned in yesterday's Part 1.

This leaves Romney, whose breathtakingly conservative withdrawal speech was a verbal audition for the VP nod. He said everyone needed to get out of the way for McCain (while Huckabee and Paul were still in the race, by the way). He talked about the importance of the war on terror, implying McCain was the right guy for the job. He also mentioned the importance of the future of the Republican Party remaining the conservative party.

In the closing weeks of Romney's campaign, the conservative base, media included, was pushing his campaign. It was probably more anti-McCain than pro-Romney, but regardless, if the two joined up, it could galvanize the Republican Party. Romney brings a geographical balance, executive experience, a handsome family, personal and public economic success, and millions of his own dollars into the campaign war chest.

2. Mark Sanford (Governor, South Carolina)
He's similar to DeMint (see yesterday), except as a governor, there is executive experience. Sanford could very well be the future of the party. He's young (turns 48 this month), good-looking (so I'm told by women), has an excellent conservative fiscal record, and the Republican base loves him. A McCain-Sanford victory in November could very well mean 12-16 years of Mark Sanford on the ballot. He's almost tailor made for the #2 spot. However, South Carolina and its geographical region are in no danger of being flipped to the blue column.

1. Tim Pawlenty (Governor, Minnesota)
Pawlenty has a check next to his name in all categories, and must be on McCain's short list. He's young and has a future in the party. He has executive experience. He's as conservative of a northern governor that you'll ever find. He was strongly behind the McCain campaign for President. He's a popular governor of the only state to vote Democratic in every election since McGovern's disastrous 1972 bid against President Nixon. He flips Minnesota's 9 electoral votes and could even do some stumping in nearby Michigan, which is now in play thanks to the DNC fracas.

If you have to wager on McCain's VP, go with Tim Pawlenty to win, Mark Sanford to place, and Mitt Romney to show. Take John Thune in your superfecta and you'll go home rich. If you want a long shot that could pay out big, I suggest Sarah Palin.

I'm back tomorrow with some Democratic Primary news and some VP possibilities for Barack Obama. See you then.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

John McCain Veepstakes

The as-expected West Virginia victory does not change the race at all, despite a well executed, if not unoriginal speech from Senator Hillary Clinton. She is still facing the most difficult of mathematics. She is still facing a nearly impossible road to the nomination. She still either a) doesn't seem to realize she has no realistic chance or b) she doesn't care about the possible collateral damage her extended campaign is having on the Democratic Party's chances in November.

Since there was no change in the primary's narration last night, and it's been over a month since I've directly addressed the Republican Party due to obvious reasons, let's look ahead a bit. It will soon be time to gear up for the general election, an election to which I have been patiently looking forward.

So while we await Oregon and Kentucky numbers for the rest of the week, I'll try to project the competing tickets for the general election. Today I'll begin a two-day look at the top 10 VP candidates for John McCain and on Friday I'll do the same for Barack Obama. I'll return to the Democratic Primary on Monday.

Here's my take on McCain's top 10 VP list, ranked by whom I think he'll choose.

Considerations that did not make the list: Sam Brownback (Doesn't mesh with McCain), JC Watts, Michael Steele, (African-American vote not up for grabs), Condoleezza Rice (No AA's, no politics, and too close to the President), Fred Thompson (too old), Newt Gingrich (too overshadowing), Jeb Bush (too Bush).

10. Sarah Palin (Governor, Alaska)
Working under the assumption that Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, there is undoubtedly going to be a lot of disappointed female voters who are up for grabs across the country. Sarah Palin would be an excellent olive branch to a gender that consistently leans Democratic. She not only brings executive experience to balance McCain's legislative work, but she might be the most popular executive in the country. Indeed, in a poll taken in 2007, she had an astounding approval rating of 84% with only 5% disapproval. Other strengths include her strong pro-life stance and she's voiced an opinion against gay marriage, two core conservative tenants that will be welcome to Republicans who are skeptical of a McCain nomination.

Of course, there are nine people ranked higher on this list for a reason. First, the 44-year-old governor was elected governor in 2006, and with less than a year-and-a-half of statewide experience, she could be considered too green for the ticket (even if the average age of her and McCain is a perfect 58). Second, she has very little name recognition across the country, and even though that isn't her fault, it is something McCain and the Republican brain trust could be concerned with when selecting the #2. Finally, she brings nothing to the table geographically, as Alaska's three electoral votes consistently go red, and the state will not attract any region of the country, unless the Yukon Territory is somehow annexed and incorporated by November.

9. Joe Lieberman (Senator, Connecticut)I had to include him, if for no other reason than to once again bring up the Dream Election (2007 article), one of my first political articles. Of course, the Dream Election was only feasible if the conservative base screwed over McCain after he patiently waited for eight years after losing to then-Governor Bush. (McCain would run third party for his last hurrah, and he'd run on the platform of bipartisanship, targeting the moderate and Independent third of the country. To secure the middle ground, he would run with former Democrat Joe Lieberman, with whom McCain is famously friends. This would split the country in three parts, Democrat, Republican, and In-between.)

Alas, McCain has won the nomination, and a look at his struggle with the conservative base reveals that to select a former Democrat as his VP would be general election suicide. Still, if McCain wants to run on an aggressive foreign policy and an end to partisan politics, his buddy Joe Lieberman would be the perfect running mate.

8. Mike Huckabee (Former Governor, Arkansas)Would there be a more fun and amiable #2 to see in debates and campaigning across the country? Huckabee brings executive experience, the southern geography, experience in a national campaign, and nearly unrivaled charisma and genuineness for a politician.

Of course, ultimately, thanks to questionable fiscal conservative credentials, Huckabee was the third least preferred candidate of the conservative media and the far right (after Paul and McCain), and probably does not help McCain's desire to consolidate the Republican base.

7. Jim DeMint (Senator, South Carolina)
He's a southerner with a 100% conservative rating in 2006. That is crucial considering some conservative's dislike for John McCain. He is the perfect balance for McCain... but he's a Senator with no executive experience from a state that is not in play.

6. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Senator, Texas)
See Sarah Palin for the obvious reason. Additionally, Hutchison, in her third term, is the female Republican Senator with the most seniority, so inexperience is not a factor. She is from a southern state, which holds the geographical base of the party. She has a consistent conservative record.

Of course, Texas is in no danger of going to the Democrats, especially with Obama's nomination. Furthermore, she has no executive experience. Perhaps most importantly, she has said she does not want the VP nomination.

I'll see you for the top 5 in Part 2 of the McCain Veepstakes tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Clinton Wins West Virginia; Reads Talking Points

As predicted by everyone, Hillary Clinton is projected to win West Virginia by a large margin.

Hillary Clinton is currently giving a speech that is simply all of her talking points onto one piece of paper. She reminds us the popular vote is close. She wants to marginalize the importance and binding effect of pledged delegates. She wants to count Florida and Michigan now that she needs the states, a 180 on her pre-February 5th position, despite Barack Obama not even being on the ballot in Michigan. She wants superdelegates to make up their own minds. She is up in key battle ground polls. She does not give up.

Nothing new. So, in the spirit of Clinton, I will offer nothing new in this post. Nothing has changed. Refer to today's post to see where she goes from here.

West Virginia Polls and Predictions

What exactly is Hillary Clinton hoping will happen? Let's dispense with the "It's her right to stay in" talk. Though it is inarguably her right, it has also been the right of every candidate who has ever vied for the nomination of their party for any office, but a tipping point always comes when they realize they are not going to win, and no one expects a comeback except the most ardent of illogical supporters. Almost always, these candidates do indeed drop out of the race.

They drop out when it becomes clear there is no realistic way back into the contest. They do this for several reasons, not the least of which is that it makes no sense to compete against a fellow member of the party when they have a general election around the corner. They drop out for the good of the party because there is nothing left to gain.

So what exactly is Hillary Clinton hoping will happen?

There are two scenarios remaining, neither realistic.

1. Something HUGE happens to Obama. Perhaps Satan rides to Illinois with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and they drape their arm around Jeremiah Wright while attending Obama's monthly flag burning party with Osama Bin Laden.

2. The following things happen:
a. Today: Despite Obama's momentum, Clinton wins West Virginia by 40+ points, netting her 12+ delegates.
b. Next seven days: With Clinton's resounding win, superdelegates pause for a week.
c. May 20: Clinton uses the 40-point West Virginia win and great Kentucky poll numbers to take Oregon by a narrow margin (highly unlikely) and Kentucky by 40-points (doable), netting 25+ delegates.
d. May 21-June 1: Superdelegates trickle towards Clinton, as she and her husband call in all favors, convincing supers that she has recaptured the momentum and it's now or never. Bill pops over to Puerto Rico while Hillary and Chelsea spend a week in South Dakota and Montana.
e. June 1: Clinton wins Puerto Rico's 55 delegate primary, netting 10+ delegates.
f. June 3: Clinton wins Montana and South Dakota's tiny primaries of 16 and 15 delegates, respectively, netting 5-10 delegates total, ending the primary season with six straight wins.
g. Somewhere between a and f, Clinton takes back the popular vote, Florida and Michigan included.
h. Summer: Superdelegates see that she has won the last six primaries in a row and eight of the last nine. They see she has a weak but existent argument as the popular vote winner. Most significantly, they see that she polls better than McCain in big battleground states. They get intimidated by the former leader of the party, President Clinton. While few to zero superdelegates leave Obama, over a hundred superdelegates hold their vote until August (awaiting cabinet secretary or undersecretary positions), and at the Democratic Convention, a floor fight decides the nominee.
i. August 28: The floor fight results in a Clinton/Obama ticket, in that order.

See? Of course she's staying in the race. She just needs a nine-step process where every last factor breaks in Clinton's direction. Easy.

Don't forget, though, before she can get to b-i, she has to start with a, a huge win in West Virginia. Here are the latest West Virginia polls. As always, most polls are found with the help of Real Clear Politics.

Suffolk 5/10 - 05/11
HC: 60
BO: 24
Clinton +36.0

ARG* 5/7 - 5/8
HC: 66
BO: 23
Clinton +43.0

Rasmussen 5/4 - 5/4
HC: 56
BO: 27
Clinton +29.0

TSG Consulting (D) 5/3 - 5/3
HC: 63
BO: 23
Clinton +40.0

West Virginia Average 5/3-5/11
HC: 61
BO: 24
Clinton +37

PPFA Analysis: Today's primary is not exactly a white-knuckler. Clinton will win and she will win big. Still, there are two factors working in Obama's favor, one heading into the vote, the other coming out.

First, any undecideds or soft Clinton voters will probably go over to Obama for the sake of expediency. Even some soft-to-moderate Clinton supporters, the ones that value the Democratic Party over their allegiance to the junior Senator from New York, might realize that a vote for Clinton is a vote for an extension, and despite telling pollsters that they prefer Clinton, they end up voting with their head instead of heart.

Second, the number "40" has been used to describe West Virginia for the past week. If Clinton wins by literally only 39, it will be looked on as worse-than-expected. Anything less than 35 and it will be disheartening for the Clinton campaign. Long story short: It will be difficult for her to get back in the race because of West Virginia.

The first factor will produce the second. Expect Clinton to win by only 30-35, which will be an underperformance, but it certainly won't make Clinton think twice about her decision to stay in the race. Then we wait for the unlikely Oregon bounce.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Denial, Anger, etc.

Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross' famous "Five Stages of Grief," detailing the process by which people deal with grief, loss, and tragedy, has become increasingly appropriate when analyzing Hillary Clinton and her campaign. To wit:

Denial: As written here and across the print media, this contest is all but over and there is no plausible road to victory for Hillary Clinton. Her last stronghold, superdelegates, has fallen. John Edwards, former third banana of the 2008 Democratic Primary, has described Barack Obama as the likely nominee because it is "difficult to make the math work" for Senator Clinton. George McGovern, the 1972 nominee of the Democratic Party, has switched from Clinton to Obama, explaining that the "battle is about over." Significantly, Rahm Emanuel, House Democratic Caucus Chairman, has now called Obama the "presumptive nominee." These are just three of dozens of important, influential names in the Democratic Party who acknowledge not only that Obama is going to get the nomination, but additionally, they imply or emphatically state that to extend the primary when it should be at its conclusion is detrimental to the party's chances in November.

Yet Senator Clinton pushes forward.

Ms. Kubler-Ross, when she proposed her Five Stages thesis, acknowledged that the wounded or grieved do not always follow the five steps in order. Indeed, there are exceptions. The stages can come in any order, and sometimes they can be skipped on the way to acceptance. It seems to me that Senator Clinton's situations is one such exception. For example,

Anger: This was supposed to be Hillary Clinton's year. She had dreamt of this moment since she was a girl in grade school. She involved herself in her husband's politics. She stayed with him through family troubles. Women loved her. African-Americans loved her husband. She ran for Senate of a big state in 2000. She got on influential Senate committees. She earned a reputation as a tough, smart, hardworking Senator. The Republican President became a lame-duck after a 2004 victory. She completed her first Senate term in 2006. Then it was time to run for the open presidential seat in 2008. She was expected to amass a campaign war chest never before seen in politics. She was overwhelmingly going to win the female vote in a primary with eight men. In 2007, she had a twenty-point lead in nearly every national poll. She was going to walk to the nomination and then throw down in a general against a candidate whose party leader had become overwhelmingly unpopular. She was going to be the first female President in United States history.

She had dreamt of this moment since she was a girl in grade school.

And then along comes Barack Obama, with his speeches, with his hope, with his activists, with his 90% of the black vote digging into her base, with his caucus victories, with his small state victories, with his bottom up campaign strategy, with the youth vote, with his even bigger war chest, with his even larger donor list, with the media in his hip pocket, and with his skin color as much of a novelty has her gender...

You better believe she's angry. If you don't believe me, go talk to a hardcore Clinton supporter. Then duck.

Bargaining: This stage has recently kicked in. Bargaining, when it comes to personal tragedy, perhaps a terminal illness, deals with pleas like, "Just let me live to see my daughter get married." In political terms, Clinton is just looking to buy herself more time, just in case a one-in-a-thousand event occurs. She pushes onto West Virginia tomorrow, where she enjoys a 40-point lead, though the state only has 25 delegates. She hopes that enough momentum will build from that (which it won't) to push her in to dominating 40-point victories the rest of the way (Which she won't get), giving superdelegates a lot to think about (which they won't do).

As I will write tomorrow, this scenario is completely unrealistic, and she's just trying to convince everyone there's a reason she's staying in besides to hurt Barack Obama. Bargaining.

Depression: This and the next stage are still to come. When she finally concedes, or when Barack Obama eclipses the 2,025 delegate mark, she will start to see that her girlhood dream was a mirage, and probably the only person who could have beat her in a primary decided to run the same year she did. This thought will depress her greatly, and this depression will soon yield to...

Acceptance: This summer, when she publicly accepts the decision made by the voters and superdelegates, she will appear with Barack Obama, raise his hand, and tell her supporters to line up behind the Democratic nominee. Ironically, it is this act, above all others in the last year, which will most endear her to the Democratic electorate, as she puts the party and country before her personal feelings. It is that decision that will allow her presidential aspirations to not die with her 2008 campaign, but rather just be put on hold for 4-8 years.

When she accepts that, she will have finally completed the five stages of grief, and she'll feel a whole lot better.


Back tomorrow for a West Virginia preview. See you then.
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