If not Hillary, then who?

Barack Obama should burden himself with the Clintons as running mates only if he can’t do better. So let’s run down conventional wisdom’s leading prospects to determine if there’s anything to trump the Hillary card.

Joe Biden? Goodness no. He’s a fine fellow, but a blowhard given to self-absorbed gaffe who’d be a loose cannon. Remember when he praised Obama as a “clean” black man?

Wes Clark? He tried retail politics and wasn’t any good at it. He’s Cabinet material.

Sam Nunn? The retired senator and defense experts hails from Georgia, which, like all of the Deep South, is absolutely not going for Obama.

Ed Rendell? The idea would be to shore up Pennsylvania with the Democratic governor. But if Obama needs helps winning Pennsylvania, which Al Gore and John Kerry won, he surely can’t win Ohio and probably can’t achieve the presidency anyway.

Kathy Sebelius? The governor of Kansas with a background in Ohio perhaps could mollify some Democratic women chagrined or worse that Hillary will have been denied. But Sebelius wouldn’t guarantee her own small Republican state and wouldn’t have an active enough Ohio connection to matter.

Evan Bayh? The senator from Indiana wouldn’t deliver his own state, which leans too strong to the Republicans. Plus he’s not widely liked among Democratic insiders.

John Edwards? We’ve been there and done that and he didn’t even make North Carolina close. There are other ways for Obama to connect with working people, the main one being to explain that it’s the Republicans he’s running against.

Bill Richardson? The Hispanic governor of New Mexico would be ideal, putting swing Western states in play, except that too many of the Clinton cultists see him as Judas. Obama needn’t kowtow to the Clintons, but he probably shouldn’t poke them in the eye either.

Jim Webb? Vietnam War hero opposed to the Iraq war, a Beltway veteran, the vanquisher of vaunted Republican George Allen in the last Senate race in Virginia, hailing from a red state that Obama might convert, author of a new book that has put him on a TV tour — he sounds perfect. But Webb won in large part because of Allen’s gaffes, not his own retail political skill. He seems a little shy, reserved and contemptuous of the nonsense. Democrats can’t trust that, should Webb become vice president, they’d keep the Virginia U.S. Senate seat in a special election.

Mark Warner? Same problem with this former Virginia governor now running for the Senate.

Democrats could fully trust keeping the Senate seat in New York if Hillary vacated it. So is she the obvious and logical, if not compelling, choice?

Have we overlooked anyone? Why, yes, it happens that we have.

Remember that a Democrat becomes president if he carries Ohio. The governor there is a moderate 66-year-old Democrat, Ted Strickland. He’s a former Methodist minister possessed of an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. He enjoys an approval rating in the state higher than 60 percent. He helped deliver his state to Hillary in the big primary. He remains committed to her as long as she wallows in the race, which is why he said the other day that he had no interest in being Obama’s running mate.

Some say Strickland would bring no vital foreign affairs experience to balance Obama’s chief vulnerability, which is a lack of experience. But we surely know by now that the political premium is on change, not experience. It’s experience that got us into a couple of these messes. Anyway, Strickland can cite six terms in Congress.

Strickland balances the ticket generationally and politically. Yes, he’s bland. Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee would out-debate him. But winning Ohio is exciting.

Barack can take a deep breath. He doesn’t have to take her.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of “High Wire,” a book about Bill Clinton’s first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.

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