Vice-Presidential Choices

In the next few days, both presidential campaigns will announce their picks for the vice presidential nomination. In the case of the Democrats, rumour has it that it could be as early as tomorrow, when the Obama campaign will send an e-mail to its numerous supporters announcing the nominee. The Republicans will in all likelihood wait until after the Democratic convention to indicate their choice. While the veep choice has rarely tipped the scales in a presidential contest, it is highly likely that, this year, much will be said about the respective choices and they will have a greater role in the campaign. This is the first election since 1952 that there are no incumbents on either ticket. Moreover, the selection itself will say much about the presidential candidates.

This blog has been on the record saying that the objective remains, above all, victory. The choice will be evaluated along these lines. This is why geographic considerations and electoral vote potential will be factored in. Other factors will include chemistry between the presidential nominee and his running mate. Finally, expect the presidential nominees to look to compensate for perceived weaknesses in their own candidacies.

Senator Obama has not been able to mount a sufficient lead over his rival Senator McCain, largely because he is seen as an unknown with limited experience by many independent voters. For his part, John McCain is seen as a maverick that has alienated some important parts of the Republican base; in addition, he will have to carry the Bush record into the campaign. And, lest we forget, race and age will also be considerations. Barack Obama is the first African American candidate to be the nominee of a major party and, should he win, John McCain would be the oldest candidate to ever be elected president.

Obama’s pick will likely focus on balancing his youth and charisma with experience and stability. This would make Senators Joe Biden of Delaware and Evan Bayh of Indiana the likely front-runners. Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, would also be an attractive candidate, but his choice risks alienating some Clinton supporters who have not forgotten nor forgiven his support for Senator Obama. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine seemed like an attractive candidate for a ‘change agenda’ at the outset. However, the change agenda is already so closely associated with the Obama campaign that Kaine’s limited experience in national politics could reinforce the Republican argument that Obama is “not ready to lead.” From this vantage point, and with the Russia-Georgia conflict exemplifying the inherent complexity of foreign relations, the Biden candidacy looks most promising.

Senator McCain will most likely choose a candidate that will surprise most observers. His admitted weakness in the economy leads many to believe that he will choose Mitt Romney. However, the chemistry between the two men has never been good and Romney proved to be a poor campaigner in his run for the presidency. The next most mentioned choice is Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. While he has limited experience in national politics, he has been co-chair of the campaign, is from the state where the Republican convention will be held (Minneapolis – St. Paul), and is a telegenic 47 year old, which would compensate for the age factor. Other choices could include independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Florida Governor Charles Crist, and maybe his closest friend, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, an unconditional McCain backer. McCain’s choice is less predictable than the Obama’s, but McCain would be sending a signal to the Republican party that it is capable of renewal by selecting the popular governor from Minnesota.

The presidential nominees have compelling narratives of their own. While they differ on the issues and the direction of the country, the campaign has focused mostly on their character and their abilities. This may change in the weeks ahead. However, this election will, in all likelihood, signal a generational shift in American politics. Clearly, an Obama victory would confirm such a shift, but a McCain-Pawlenty ticket would show that generational change in American politics is inevitable.

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