It seems to me that this race, far from heating up, is almost over. I don't mean just the Democrats; I mean the general. Consider how John McCain has had every opportunity to run away with this election: a divisive Democratic battle, questions about the front-runner's elitism, questions about the front-runner's patriotism, questions about the front-runner's religion, questions about the front-runner's experience (or lackthereof), questions about the front-runner's readiness, questions about the front-runner's past associations... etc., etc., etc. John McCain shouldn't just be winning right now; he should be decimating Obama, tearing him apart limb from limb. So, is this evidence that Obama is a brilliant politician, or merely that the country is dissatisfied with Republicans? As far as I can tell, it's both. That's why, unlike in 2000 or 2004, the selection of a vice-presidential candidate is going to matter hugely for both candidates. McCain doesn't have a lot of base support, and the independents upon which he relied in 2000 are rather pissed off at him for his unabashed and unflinching support of the War in Iraq, which they equate with George W. Bush's philosophy (and, though these independents voted for Dubya in 2000 and 2004, they hate him now. I know, I know -- I don't like 'em either, but we do have to recognize that they could've turned the election for Gore or Kerry if either had been anything more than a Democratic stool-pigeon).
So, let's talk veeps, shall we?
The biggest question for the Obama campaign isn't necessarily who brings the most experience; it's who can be the best water-bearer while bringing in a state or two as well? With a candidate like Obama, this is especially pertinent, because he has the ability to redraw the electoral map. States that would never be in play for almost any other Democratic candidate -- states like Mississippi and Georgia and Virginia and the Carolinas -- can be considered toss-ups, and he'll have a better shot with the perfect right-hand man or woman.
A lot of names come up in this regard. Please allow me to shoot some down. Hillary Clinton, first and foremost, cannot be on the ticket, because that defeats his entire purpose. That's not to say she won't influence the race; it will likely behoove Obama to pick someone who has supported her (though this isn't the case with all the candidates for the #2 spot). But since Clinton and Obama represent such polar opposites in the Democratic Party, putting her on the ticket would only hurt him. John Edwards might be attorney general, but that's about it; he doesn't help in North Carolina as much as some of the candidates below will. Same goes for Bill Richardson; though he might be able to deliver New Mexico, that doesn't mean he has the chops for Vice-President (probably more UN Ambassador). And finally, while he may yet endorse the Illinois Senator (I believe there is more acrimony between this gentleman and John McCain than is known to the general public), Chuck Hagel won't be on Obama's ticket; the two disagree fundamentally about the role government should play, though they seem to agree wholeheartedly on Iraq and could probably reach a consensus on health care as long as there is no mandate.
Now, on to the goods...
Senator Joe Biden
Biden has shown over the last week that he can be a pit-bull for Barack Obama. The "It's bullshit; it's malarkey," comment regarding the president's speech in Israel woke a lot of people up. Don't think superdelegates weren't listening, and they'll definitely be paying attention to how Biden buttressed Obama's counterpunch. However, the phrase I heard uttered from my cousin and former Obama communications coordinator Pete Coffey's mouth in December ("There will be a place for Joe Biden in the next administration") still haunts me. I'm thinking that means Biden is set to be the next Secretary of State.
Senator Blanche Lincoln
She's a centrist, and she can help Obama win Arkansas, something he can't do without help (whether or not Arkansas and its six electoral votes are worth it is another question). She's got a bit of a conservative streak in her, too, having supported a ban on partial-birth abortion and opposed the Dorgan-Grassley amendment to the last Farm Bill. All that means is that she brings to the ticket some of the centrist credentials Obama keeps claiming he has. The problem Lincoln has is that she might be a drag on the ticket the way Joe Lieberman was in 2000 -- instead of helping win conservatives, she might alienate liberals. However, since Obama is so much more in-tune with the concerns at all levels of his party than Gore was, this might not end up being a problem at all.
Governor Ray Mabus
You want to see the electoral map redefined? Want to see Barack Obama win the South? The former governor of Mississippi might be able to help with that. Mississippi already will have a high African-American turnout; let's face it, it's true. But the slightly right-of-center Mabus brings an air of legitimacy to a southern strategy, something none of the other contenders for his vice-presidential slot can claim. Mabus, 59, also brings some hefty experience, having overseen one of the biggest times of economic growth in post-slavery Mississippi and having reformed his state's education system – plus, Mississippians adore him, and in 1999, he was selected as Governor of the Millennium. He also brings major international chops, as well as cross-party credentials: he was ambassador to Saudi Arabia under (wait for it) Bill Clinton. He even has a history of rooting out corruption, which he cultivated during his time as Mississippi State Auditor, uncovering countless scandals and recovering millions of dollars in misappropriated state funds. Oh, and there's the little matter of his having served aboard the U.S.S. Little Rock. Finally (yes, there is a finally), his name doesn't come up the way Hillary Clinton's, Joe Biden's, Bill Richardson's, John Edwards's, or Kathleen Sebelius's do. That's a huge positive, because, despite the obvious drawbacks to having to educate the public about somebody new in so short a time, Mabus has a great story to tell, which will captivate voters and help bring in a whole host of new Democrats and "Obama Republicans."
Governor Kathleen Sebelius
I'm pretty sure that, no matter what happens in this election, Obama is going to win Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa. That being said, putting Kathleen Sebelius on the ticket cements the entire Midwest. It also helps Obama dramatically with the women's vote without doing the one thing that could undermine his entire campaign – putting Hillary Clinton on the ticket. Unfortunately, Sebelius does have a downside: putting her on the ticket probably ensures that Obama loses the Gulf states, as they can portray Obama rather effectively as a pandering elitist to the ever-so-receptive sheep who live in many areas of the South. However, she would make enormous inroads with women in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and especially Maryland, which are states that many political observers (myself vehemently and vocally excluded) believe are essential to a Democratic win.
Representative Joseph Sestak
Vice-Admiral of the Navy. Ph.D. from Harvard University. Pennsylvania's own. Ladies and gentlemen, why not Joseph Sestak? The best part about Sestak isn't his experience or his nativity in Pennsylvania, which would help him in that state and Ohio, and possibly even West Virginia and Florida. No, the best part about Sestak is his age: 56. If Obama manages to win two terms, he'll be 64 at the end – the same age John McCain was during his first run for president. If the Democratic Party is indeed looking to the future – and you can bet that with an Obama ticket they are – Sestak would be a logical choice to carry on the tradition. One more important reason Sestak should be on the short-list: He's a Clinton supporter.
Republicans are in, as Ned Flanders might say, a dilly of a pickle. They have not yet stemmed the tide of new Democratic voters, and John McCain hasn't been able to energize the base of his party. What Republicans need on the ticket with John McCain is a reformer with massive conservative credentials.
That's why Mitt Romney, who has been completely unapologetic about his interest in the job, has got to be the least appealing candidate for McCain. Romney has proven himself to be about as slick as a car salesman and twice as greasy. Joe Lieberman the former Democrat who now represents Connecticut not as an independent, as most circles suggest, but as a member of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party, would similarly not help McCain among conservatives, and would likely alienate so much of the Republican base that the independents a ticket like that would attract wouldn't matter in the slightest (those independents would likely vote for McCain anyways).
On to their potential nominees...
Governor Charlie Crist
McCain is probably going to win Florida. He could sew it up, however, by adding Crist to the ticket. Crist is well-liked in Republican circles, and he's been noted by Democrat Terry Fields as Florida's "first black governor." This would play to McCain's supposed ability to cross party lines. However, Crist comes with a huge risk: health insurance. It's pretty well-known in most circles that Crist has taken some steps that have led to higher insurance rates in Florida. If Obama manages to take flight with health insurance, Crist could end up being more of a liability than a benefit -- especially if Obama can convince the elderly population of Florida that McCain wants to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Senator Lindsey Graham
Lindsey Graham solidifies the Republican base, satisfying a whole bunch of semi-religious conservatives and those who value military experience above all (not that McCain needs a military man on the ticket with him, but I'm just sayin'...). And it's true that Graham brings an awful lot of experience for someone so young (52). That said, Graham has plenty of risks. Consider the rumor that he coached Sam Alito during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. If Lindsey Graham is on the ticket, women will flock to Obama; I doubt there are many women out there who want to see another Alito on the bench.
Governor Mike Huckabee
To me, Huck makes the most sense. He's a moderate, he's likable, and he's ridiculously religious. However, there are a couple of flaws he brings to the table. First, with another overt religious candidate in Obama, coupled with McCain's ambiguous stance on his own religion, the so-called religious vote may not be McCain's just because Huck's on the ticket. Second, fiscal conservatives are already annoyed, if not overtly pissed, at McCain; Huckabee, who is the antithesis of a fiscal conservative (at least, as far as the Republican Party is concerned), won't make them any happier, and those types of true fiscal conservatives might just go for Bob "Ross Perot 2008" Barr. Finally, while Huckabee is well-liked by independents, that doesn't mean he's likely to get their votes. In fact, he could alienate a lot of less-religious independents who might have otherwise supported McCain. Yet, even with all these potential drawbacks, I can't see anyone who makes better sense for McCain than Mike Huckabee.
Governor Tim Pawlenty
Pawlenty and McCain have plenty in common. They're both johnnys-come-lately to Baptist Christianity, for one. Okay, sorry, yeah, that's a cheap shot, but I'm not particularly fond of the Minnesota governor, as I think he's a cheap imitation of what McCain is trying (and failing) to be in this election. He'd also, I feel, be a dead-on-arrival candidate. Think about that bridge falling in Minneapolis, then think about how he balanced the Minnesota budget: by cutting spending across the board. That kind of thinking might fly in a College Republicans meeting, but when you present the argument that a McCain/Pawlenty administration will cut taxes by cutting spending, and you see what cutting spending did in Pawlenty's state... well, my friends, that is what we in the business call a really fucking dumb idea. Some of the other things Pawlenty has supported or helped along include a spike in the cost of university attendance in the state; a "health impact fee," also known as a new tax on cigarettes, which drew the ire of the conservative Taxpayers League of Minnesota; and a bill that allowed the costs of renovations to Minneapolis's Metrodome be passed along to the average taxpayer. The funny thing is, I'm pretty sure he's the front-runner for McCain's #2 spot. As a still-registered Democrat (though I often wonder why), I really, really hope he gets it.
Thune defeated Tom Daschle to get his post when Daschle was the leader of the Senate Democrats. But that was in 2004. Thune is an Evangelical with lots of religious-conservative credentials. He brings in, in fact, a whole lot of conservatives, especially with his pro-Iraq rhetoric. The problem is, the country is not in the same place in 2008 as it was in 2004. Thune will get destroyed in a debate with any Democratic veep nominee with the mention of his 2005 interview with Christianity Today, in which he said, "Liberating Iraq from decades of tyranny and dictatorship, bringing about political freedom, will create an atmosphere of where religious freedom will come to Iraq. And that opens the door, obviously, for the Christian faith there as well." To Christians, this may seem normal and innocent; to those who actually understand the Middle East, though, we can see it as those people would -- a direct attack on their cultures and customs. Thune was noted in 2004 as having an almost perfect combination of George W. Bush's conservative Christian support and Dick Cheney's hawkish support. That's why he won the Senate seat in 2004; and that's why he'd be a drag on the ticket in 2008.