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Veep Value

So, Senator Barack Obama has tapped Senator Joe Biden to be his running mate this fall. Senator John McCain may or may not know whom he wants, but in any case he has not announced a pick. At this point there's not really much substance to the decision anyway, though I think the choices are interesting in what they say about the campaigns. That is, for all the hype, there's not really much chance the VP choice does much to improve a candidate's chances - in my entire life I cannot remember anyone saying something like 'I was going to vote for 'X', but when 'Y' picked so-and-so for his veep he won me over'. Sure, maybe there are some few, some very few voters somewhere that could be swayed by the running pick to vote for someone, but I have to think such a number is too small to really matter. It's really more a case of three things; the VP pick is usually made when things are a bit slow and the campaign wants some good press - remember that the media is impressed more with the flash of a story rather than its merit, which is why CNN treats a Britney Spears event with greater attention than another success in the Iraq War. Also, the VP choice can be an opportunity to really screw things up, to pick some loser who damages the top of the ticket. Even there, the amount of damage done is generally not significant, as the first Bush's pick of Dan Quayle in 1988 illustrated. The third thing that comes from the pick, however, is what it tells us about the candidate's fears. In 1960, Kennedy's campaign picked Lyndon Johnson because they were worried about the South and JFK's thin resume. In 1968 Nixon tapped Spiro Agnew because he was worried about the Northeast. On the flip side, the pick sometimes reflects confidence. Bill Clinton's choice of Gore in 1992 showed that he was comfortable with his team as it was, and Gore was picked because he fit what was already going. In 2000, Dubya picked Cheney for his VP because he saw Cheney as the most competent man for the role, ignoring the popular push to put McCain on the ticket to show party unity, or some prominent regional name to attract support from that area.

There are three effective reasons for picking someone as your running mate. One is the possibility that he might take your place, as five Vice-Presidents have become President through death or resignation since 1900. But Obama is in excellent health, and should expect great support from his party if he is elected. About the only way Obama could get impeached, would be if he announced immediately after taking office that his last name was really "Bush". So that reason is not really in play. The second possibility is that Obama thinks Biden will help him win a certain region. Delaware is already locked in for the Democrats, and the Northeast is also a pretty deep Blue this year, so that possibility also falls by the wayside. This brings us to the third reason, the fear of some weakness in the nominee's strategy. Obama picked Biden, it's pretty obvious, because he hopes Biden's three and a half decades as a Washington insider will make his own lack of work more tolerable. Obama's naïveté in foreign policy statements will, he hopes, be overlooked in the light of Biden's long experience in foreign policy. Of course, the historical record on that point is not promising. Ross Perot tapped an admiral for his running mate, but it did not make his own foreign policy credentials any more authentic. John Kerry got a lot of support from General Wesley Clark, but again the effort failed to undo the damage of Kerry's own record. So a running mate with a long record does not do much to improve your own credentials. It does, however, prevent McCain's camp from claiming that neither Obama nor his veep pick have experience in foreign policy.

- continued -

Some are already saying that Obama's pick of Biden is a good move, while some have said it was a mistake. At this point I do not really agree with either side. Biden is not likely to win over Clinton supporters who are still mad that Hillary was not even considered for the second slot - even though she would not have wanted the job, many in her camp see the decision to not even vet her as a deliberate insult. Biden is not likely to impress all those young people who are attracted to Obama because he is fresh and new in their minds, something Biden clearly is not. Biden is not likely to win over independents either, as his views have tracked with DNC talking points for a very long time. At the same time, it would be wrong to assume the move is a mistake, as there is no evidence - at least not yet - that Biden would prove a liability. While the man's vanity and arrogant tone have brought him to many blunders in the past, at the moment Biden looks good where Obama needs him to look good, a union favorite and likely to reassure the party base.

The real effect of the Biden pick won't be known for some time, partly because the effect will be demonstrated by how well Biden campaigns in battlefield states, but also because now the focus will swing to the question of McCain's pick. McCain's choice, like Obama's, is more tactical in value than strategic, and he has more to lose from a bad choice than he stands to gain with a good choice. But knowing the Biden pick means that the McCain camp has the opportunity to choose a running mate who will appeal to the demographics missed by Obama-Biden.


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Comments (18)

You can't pay for material ... (Below threshold)

You can't pay for material this good:

MR. RUSSERT: I want to go back to 2002, because it's important as to what people were saying then and what the American people were hearing. Here's Joe Biden about Saddam Hussein:"He's a long term threat and a short term threat to our national security."

"We have no choice but to eliminate the threat. This is a guy who is an extreme danger to the world."

"He must be dislodged from his weapons or dislodged from power." You were emphatic about that.

SEN. BIDEN: That's right, and I was correct about that. He must be, in fact--and remember the weapons we were talking about. I also said on your show, that's part of what I said, but not all of what I meant. What I also said on your show at the time was that I did not think he had weaponized his material, but he did have. When, when the inspectors left after Saddam kicked them out, there was a cataloguing at the United Nations saying he had X tons of, X amount of, and they listed the various materials he had. The big issue, remember, on this show we talked about, was whether he had weaponized them. Remember you asked me about those flights that were taking place in southern Iraq, where--were they spraying anthrax? And, you know, what would happen? And, you know, so on and so forth. And I pointed out to you that they had not developed that capacity at all. But he did have these stockpiles everywhere.

MR. RUSSERT: Where are they?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, the point is, it turned out they didn't, but everyone in the world thought he had them.

The weapons inspectors said he had them. He catalogued--they catalogued them. This was not some, some Cheney, you know, pipe dream. This was, in fact, catalogued. They looked at them and catalogued. What he did with them, who knows? The real mystery is, if he, if he didn't have any of them left, why didn't he say so? Well, a lot of people say if he had said that, he would've, you know, emboldened Iran and so on and so forth.

Obama was between a ... (Below threshold)

Obama was between a rock and a hard place. If he had picked Clinton, he would have solidified his female base but he would have alienated his wife, a number of his supporters and had the Clinton machine clasped to his bosum. Not fun.

If he picked another woman, he would have been labled as posturing and failing to pick Hillary. So he played it safe and chose Biden.

It has never been about who Obama picks, it is about who McCain selects. McCain has always been in the catbird seat for a number of reasons, not the least of which is his age. In my view, McCain's best bet is Palin of Alaska in spite of her comparative youth. Palin is tough as nails and competitive to the same degree as Biden while having a REAL connection to what it means to run a business and work for a living. Biden has been living on the public payroll for a very long time.

Perhaps it would be interes... (Below threshold)

Perhaps it would be interesting to look at Democratic vice presidential picks during the last 30 years:

Walter Mondale
Geraldine Ferraro
Lloyd Bentsen
Al Gore
Joe Lieberman
John Edwards

Only Mondale and Gore actually served as VP; both of them subsequently ran for president and both of them lost their presidential election bids (one by the worst defeat in US history, and the other in a squeaker of a race where he should have easily won by 5 points or better).

Geraldine Ferraro and Lloyd Bentsen were part of losing tickets. Both remained active in government, but neither attained a major party leadership role (such as DNC chair).

Even though Al Gore was a presidential nominee, he never attained a major party leadership role (something that Bill and Hillary Clinton would never relinquish, and really haven't, to this day). Gore's fame and fortune came outside the realm of politics, championing a questionable cause that will, if nothing else, make him very wealthy.

Joe Lieberman went from being VP pick to the black sheep of the party, to the point of being forced out of the party, simply because of his views on one issue. If you want to make a yellow dog Democrat angry, just remind him how close we came to "Vice President Joe Lieberman."

And then there's John Edwards. Ah, John Edwards.

So honestly, it's hard to say whether Joe Biden will benefit in any real fashion from being a Democratic VP pick.

That is, for all t... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
That is, for all the hype, there's not really much chance the VP choice does much to improve a candidate's chances - in my entire life I cannot remember anyone saying something like 'I was going to vote for 'X', but when 'Y' picked so-and-so for his veep he won me over'.

Never in your life, nor anyone else's, has someone as old as McCain taken office (he'll be 72 this Friday). Besides his age, McCain has had a serious type of skin cancer called melanoma. Statistically, there has never been a greater likelihood that McCain will be unable to continue his duties as President; assuming he's elected.

Also consider that Obama has only a 2 point advantage over McCain with women voters, which is historically low for the Democratic candidate. Obviously, there's still a lot of women who feel there should be a woman President.

However unlikely it is, if McCain could sweat talk Rice into being his VP you would likely see something we have never seen before. That is, a massive increase in support because of the VP pick. Also, that support would come from Obama's base, not just swing voters. What's more, the feeble minded who've fallen for the con that not voting for Obama is racist, could now vote for the McCain/Rice ticket knowing that Rice would have a fair chance of inheriting the Presidency.

Unfortunately, Rice is likely too smart to be duped into being McCain's VP. Darn, that would have made things real interesting.

Reagan had melanoma, by the... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Reagan had melanoma, by the way. And I am unaware of melanoma ever causing the loss of the mental faculties required to be President.

There's reason to dislike McCain, but lies and hysteria about his age and physical condition are not valid criteria. You're better than that, Mac.

I dont know much about Stee... (Below threshold)
retired military:

I dont know much about Steele but he may be a viable choice to help split the dem ticket. Plus it would help make the race card a bit more unbelieveable than it already is (not that that matters to most liberals).

Sorry DJ, but brain mets ar... (Below threshold)

Sorry DJ, but brain mets are not uncommon in melanoma recurrences (or in lymphoma recurrences if ya want to bring Fred T into it). Thus the appropriate concern for McCain. Melanoma recurrences can be decades later, without warning, and devastating. However, I would suspect McCain has a higher risk of a disabling cardiovascular event than a melanoma recurrence. That being said, he seems to be in better health than many at 72, and likely to be vigorous for another 10 years or so.

Also, Maureen Reagan died o... (Below threshold)

Also, Maureen Reagan died of melanoma, Ronnie had a basal cell carcinoma or two, but no reported melanomas.

And I am unaware o... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
And I am unaware of melanoma ever causing the loss of the mental faculties required to be President.

The loss of mental faculties is a side effect of being dead, and melanoma causes 75% of all skin cancer deaths. While, melanoma is not a common cancer, McCain has already had it and the chance of it's reoccurrence is much higher than getting it the first time. Giving an example of someone who has beaten melanoma doesn't change the statistics. You're better than that, DJD

There's reason to dislike McCain, but lies and hysteria about his age and physical condition are not valid criteria. You're better than that, Mac.

I wasn't making a point about disliking McCain, but about why his VP pick is more important than usual. McCain's age and cancer history are facts, not opinion. When did you start discouraging posting facts?

Facts are fine, Mac. Spinni... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Facts are fine, Mac. Spinning that McCain is likely to die in office is something else.

Spinning that McCa... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Spinning that McCain is likely to die in office is something else.

I said "Statistically, there has never been a greater likelihood", which is not the same as saying "McCain is likely to die in office." Just that the odds are greater for McCain dying in office than with any President since WW2. Sorry if you don't like that, but that's just the way it is. I hope McCain understands that he can't afford to pick someone the public doesn't think could actually do the job like Bush did with Dan Quayle.

Rice would be a formidable ... (Below threshold)

Rice would be a formidable VP pick.

OTOH, could not McCain pick Hilary? After all, did not Kerry flirt with picking McCain?

Obama campaigns on "judgmen... (Below threshold)

Obama campaigns on "judgment." THe biggest part of that judgment is that he opposed the Iraq war.

Biden voted for it, and last year said that removing Saddam was the right thing to do.

Biden was also dead wrong about Petraeus and the effect of the surge.

Is all this a comment on Biden or on Obama's judgment?

"In 1960, Kennedy's campaig... (Below threshold)

"In 1960, Kennedy's campaign picked Lyndon Johnson because they were worried about the South and JFK's thin resume." Wrong. JFK's résumé wasn't so thin, especially compared to BHO. Kennedy was a war hero in WWII (Navy and Marine Corps Medal), had been in the House from 1947 to 1953, and in the Senate from 1953 to 1960. He had won the Pulitzer Price for literature in 1957 for Profiles in Courage. He had finished second in the balloting for Vice President at the 1956 Democratic Convention. Compared to a guy who never served in the military, has been in the Senate less than 4 years and is famous for being young, good looking, "clean" and articulate, JFK was very well qualified.

I voted for Ronald Reagan i... (Below threshold)

I voted for Ronald Reagan in the first Presidential election for which I was eligible because I had supported GHW Bush in the run-up to the election (although not old enough to participate in our caucuses). I though Reagan was a empty shell and Bush had the foreign policy credentials I thought we needed. Not saying I called that right, but I definitely voted for Reagan for his team, not the man.

"John Kerry got a lot of su... (Below threshold)
doug in colorado:

"John Kerry got a lot of support from General Wesley Clark, but again the effort failed to undo the damage of Kerry's own record."

Um...wasn't My Pretty Pony John Edwards the running mate to Kerry? Clark was just a fly buzzing around the poop and not on the ticket.

DJ, I can't read your stuff... (Below threshold)

DJ, I can't read your stuff. Please consider using more paragraph breaks. Long chunks of text are much more difficult to read on screen than on paper.

True, in most cases the VP ... (Below threshold)
Allen Hammer:

True, in most cases the VP pick doesn't amount to much.

If McCain chooses Hillary, Lieberman or someone like that again it WILL NOT help.

If he takes Romney, Rice or someone like THAT he will win EASILY.

There are way more conservatives who would be angry with a liberal choice!!!






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