Veepstakes Primer: Democrats

As promised, the following is a lengthy, in depth, semi-reported (and by that I mean I called some people in a position to know some shit and incorporated that, so some of this gibberish is slightly informed gibberish) look at the Vice-Presidential sweepstakes the punditocracy is dying for so they don’t have to talk about magazine covers for a whole day anymore. The Democrats will be tonight, and then tomorrow or in the next couple of days I’ll tackle the Republicans.

First of all, I think it best to tackle the short list of people whose names have been mentioned in conversation and who may be vetted, but who are not really being taken seriously. They are:

Bill Richardson: Everyone’s favorite VP discussion fodder 6 months ago is highly unlikely to actually get the nomination. While he was much praised on his energy plan (and he was Energy Secretary after all), has views very much in line with Obama on Iraq, and has a mile long resume of Washington experience, so far as I can tell he isn’t even being seriously considered for the job. Why? Because he has a mile long resume of Washington experience. The general perception is that Richardson, while congenial and folksy enough, would undercut Obama’s change position and outsider cred too much, based on his long list of positions held, people known, and deals made. Richardson is also a pretty terrible campaigner who will say some really dumb things, and not the kind of amiably dumb things a guy like Ed Rendell is known for.

John Edwards: No one could actually guess as to whether or not Obama would seriously consider tapping Edwards, but opinion seems near unanimous that, regardless, Edwards is not going to be the Vice-Presidential nominee. The most obvious reason is, of course, because he was the VP nominee on the last Democratic ticket. It would be one thing, I suppose, to maybe go back and tap someone who’d held the spot 30 years ago, it’s quite another level of déjà vu to pick the guy who was just running 4 years ago. To say nothing of the instant lashing to John Kerry and everything voters hated about him, and questions of how much Edwards was able to bring to the table then.

Tom Daschle: Another name who pops up, usually in the context of the name-dropper trying to sound creative and out-of-the-boxy in a “that’s so crazy it just might be right” kind of sense. But again, this is someone who opinion seems near unanimous on; he’s not going to so much as make the shortlist. As a former majority/minority leader, Daschle is another one of those guys who just can’t shake their ultimate insider persona, and as such would be rather toxic to the Obama brand as it is now. To make matters worse, his wife is also a federal lobbyist. Though, apparently, he is a betting favorite to head HHS in an Obama administration.

Janet Napolitano: The Arizona Governor was an early Obama endorser, she’s from the Southwest, and she’s a center-left to liberal Governor in a center-right to conservative state whose actually managed to get a lot done, and win over a lot of people in the process. Unfortunately, that state happens to be the same state John McCain is from, and so her usefulness is rather limited in that sense. And even though I really hate to say it, let’s be honest; talk radio would have a field day gay-baiting an unmarried woman with short hair and who happens to be named Janet.

Chris Dodd: Obama is apparently quite fond of Dodd, and the other Senator from Connecticut has actually become a bit of a favorite on the left these days. He has a long legislative track record, most notable being key to the passing of the Family and Medical Leave Act. But the Countrywide scandal is too much to overcome at the moment, and so the vetting talk is mostly just a favor designed to get Dodd some visibility and good press.

The next level are the people who may or may not be getting public attention for being vetted, but who insiders regard as a plausible, if not likely pick. These are mostly people who have been surrogates for Obama or who have been prominent Democrats in some fashion, or people who come from important swing states, but who are generally seems as having pretty obvious drawbacks that make them unlikely picks. They start with:

Claire McCaskill: The freshman Senator from Missouri has, without a doubt, been one of the biggest benefactors of this election season thus far. Her highly effective, widely lauded surrogate work for Obama and his victory in the Missouri primary have given McCaskill repeated national exposure and left a lot of senior Democrats and party operatives supremely impressed with her abilities. But she is a freshman, and her Senate seat is a contentious one from a slightly red tinted swing state. There are still some questions about how she would have done against Jim Talent had Rush Limbaugh not drawn national attention to the race by mocking Michael J. Fox’ Parkinson’s disease in the context of an ad Fox cut for McCaskill. In short, most seem to think Democrats in general are going to feel better with McCaskill holding down her Senate seat for the time being.

Sherrod Brown: He’s from Ohio, he’s been a free trade critic, he’s very liberal, and that’s about it. He’s pretty good on his feet and a very good attack dog. But Brown would make some pretty interesting vetting. Let’s put it this way, he’s got some stories in his not all that distant past that could leave Bill Clinton taken aback. And, for full disclosure, I have a strong personal animus towards Brown, and I worked on Mike DeWine’s campaign in 2006.

Wesley Clark: Some people see it, some people don’t. He’s got military experience, he’s a highly sought after figure in Democratic politics, and he’s surprisingly good at raising money. But he’s not all that great of a campaigner, most people come away not knowing how much to trust him, and he’s never held an elective office before. Either way, his recent tift with John McCain over service-as-qualification probably leaves him on the outside, right or wrong.

Joe Biden: At the moment, my personal favorite, but an unlikely candidate. Biden is a Democratic sage on matters of foreign policy, and is quite comfortable not only talking about it, but attacking Republicans in stark terms over it. You could arguably make the case that Biden, in going where no one else had the guts to go, put an end to any slight hopes that Rudy “Noun, Verb, 9/11” Giuliani might have had of winning anything. But he is a gaffe machine, and prone to some seemingly crude statements. He also apparently legitimately does not want the gig, preferring his Senate seat which will leave him on the Judiciary committee and chairing the Foreign Relations committee with a Democratic President and an expanded Democratic majority in the Senate, most likely.

Sam Nunn: For some reason, Michael Crowley has a fetish for any sort of conservative-like choices Obama could make for Vice-President, and with Jim Webb out of the running Sam Nunn is his newest fix. In any event, while Nunn is a short -lister to head Defense, his conservative record and old age are likely to leave him on the outside of any serious VP prospects.

Which brings us to the mythical short-list. No talking up is required here, so I present them to you in reverse order, from the bottom of the list to the most favored:

6. Hillary Clinton: Howard Wolfson says she isn’t being vetted, so far as he knows, and no one seems to have any real idea if that’s true. Nevertheless, everyone more or less knows the Clinton’s every move, so vetting is likely to be hap-dash anyway. Obama doesn’t want to take her, and neither does anyone around him, but in the event of an emergency between now and Denver they’re, apparently, holding out the possibility.

5. Jack Reed: The Senator from Rhode Island who is accompanying Obama on his trip abroad has jumped into the national spotlight in the past day or so, but as I hear it he’s been on the insider short list for a while. He’s a liberal, but he has an extensive military service background, a long tenure on the Armed Services committee, and a tremendous working relationship with military brass. A Vice-President Reed would allow an Obama camp to hit the ground running on military policy and start with a great rapport with the military, while offering a rare combination electorally; an ability to simultaneously speak to liberals on domestic policy and swing voters who may be concerned with Obama’s experience or national security chops on military policy.

4. Tim Kaine: A very early Obama endorser, a close friend of Obama’s, a Governor, and with Jim Webb and Mark Warner unilaterally pulling out of the sweepstakes, the lone Virginia boy remaining. The pull to Kaine for Obama is apparently very powerful, as Obama wants to win Virginia and push as far into the South as he can. Kaine’s gubernatorial term is up at the end of next year, and he is barred from re-election, so those considerations are nil.

3. Brian Schweitzer: Another governor, and another who brings a long list of positives to the table. He’s from the West (Montana) the principle area of the map Democrats are trying to expand to and switch for fairly solidly red to a trending blue area. He’s a veritable expert on energy policy, something that probably can’t be overstated as gas prices quickly become the driving economic concern, no pun intended, to American voters, and some generally seen as a centrist, while retaining a center-left streak in a lot of important areas. He’s also fluent in Arabic, which probably carries a sort of symbolic streak for some who might love to put an Arabic speaker in the White House with a guy named Obama. There are some downsides though, namely that he’s a staunch supporter of gun right (he is from Montana), and that nominating him would mean having a ticket of a guy named Obama and a guy fluent in Arabic. That’s not gonna go over well with the Scots-Irish.

2. Evan Bayh: Another bit of full disclosure, I loathe Evan Bayh. Even in the world of politicians, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man so plastic, so devoid of personality or convictions, so hell bent on being “centrist.” In short, I’ve never seen someone who so wholly embodies everything the DLC stands for. But he’s a Midwestern guy from Indiana, and that Illinois-Indiana connection apparently has a kind of Clinton-Gore appeal to it to some. He’s also seen as the safest choice in the field by far, which appeals to some in the Obama camp in an election that is basically there’s to lose. But here’s praying they try something a bit more daring than Bayh.

1. Kathleen Sebelius By nearly all accounts, the odds on favorite. She has a great working relationship with Obama, upped her national profile by delivering the Democrats’ response to the State of the Union (even if it under whelmed a bit) and, crassly, is a female who is not Hillary Clinton. The latter may prove problematic, as some Clintonites are making noise that any woman other than Clinton would be worse than a white male pick, it seems that those people are not generally taken as being representative of a broad cross-section of the left. And maybe most notably, to Obama and to the left at large, Sebelius is a staunch progressive who has managed to both be seen as more moderate than she really is, and to be re-elected by a wide margin as governor of Kansas while being a liberal, mostly through pragmatic, businesslike framing of issues.

So there you have it, your complete primer for the Democratic veepstakes, 16 prospects long. I am quite sure that the eventual nominee will be someone who does not appear in the above whatsoever.