Sunday, May 23, 2004

The Contenders

The biggest decision John Kerry will make in the next few months will not be related to Iraq or health care. Instead, Kerry’s most important choice will be the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. In an election this close, it could be all difference.
Who should John Kerry pick as his running mate? And who won’t he pick and why?

1. Bill Richardson: A popular choice who accentuates Kerry’s strengths. The New Mexico Governor has done it all, including stops at the Department of Energy and the U.N. Being Latino doesn’t hurt either. But he isn’t known as a charismatic speaker and he augments Kerry’s unfortunate image as the ulimate insider. A safe choice but not a sure thing. One of the few VP choices who can realistically deliver his home state.

2. Mary Landrieu: A personal favorite because who doesn’t like a telegenic southern Senator who just happens to be a woman? Short on experience and gravitas, she would be a controversial pick. But she could draw in married white woman who are worried about national security but dislike Bush’s domestic agenda. While the Democrats must avoid a huge mistake, some may argue that they cannot be too risk averse either.

3. John Edwards: Everyone’s 2nd favorite candidate should make a great VP choice right? Many Democrats were smitten with Edwards’s heartfelt stump speech and the personal connection he developed with primary voters. Edwards also assiduously avoided attacking Kerry until the last possible moment. Edwards’s more moderate posture could also balance out Kerry, but the rumor mill suggests that Kerry doesn’t think as much of Edwards as we do. Can Edwards carry his home state in the general election? I think so, but others disagree. Edwards needs desparately to get on the ticket to keep his national political career alive. Don’t expect Kerry to do him any favors.

4. Tom Vilsak: The popular governor of Iowa would be a fine choice, bringing Iowa into the “blue” column and perhaps affecting the vote tallies in other midwestern states. As a Catholic, some worry that the Kerry/Vilsak ticket would be unelectable in some parts of the country. I tend to think these worries are overblown. What is important is that Vilsak has a competent, understated style, combined with executive experience and fresh (read: Outside of the Beltway) appeal. Vilsak’s wife endorsed Kerry in the Iowa Caucuses while he remained neutral, demonstrating both his political adeptness and ambition.

5. Bob Kerrey: The former Nebraska senator has been one of the stars of the 9/11 commission. Anyone who watched C-SPAN’s coverage could not help but be awed by his aggressive, no nonense questioning of Republican and Democratic witnesses alike. Still, he’s been out of politics for awhile and the “Kerry Squared” campaign posters might be confusing.

6. Richard Clarke: Don’t even think about it. Kerry has been smart enough to stay away from Clarke and let the former bureaucrat do the heavy lifting. It will be news if you see these guys in the same room before November.

7. Bill Nelson: What if Kerry chose a born again Christian, former astronaut, and Senator from the most important swing state in the nation? Fantasy, you say? Bill Nelson, I say. While he has been overshadowed in the press by his colleague, Bob Graham, he might actually be the better choice. Untested on the national stage but could be a dark horse.

8. Wes Clark: A disastrous Presidential bid was thought to have doomed Clark’s chances for VP. Could he have been running for it all along? His recent Op-Ed in the New York Times demonstrated his willingness to defend Kerry, but will it be enough? If Kerry really wants to go with the national security theme, Clark could be the answer.

9. Joe Biden: As charismatic and knowledgeable as anyone on the list with lots of experience on foreign affairs. Still, it would give the Democrats an all East Coast ticket. Sorry Joe.

10. Richard Gephardt: Been there. Done that. Generated too little excitement in the primary campaign to be helpful in the general election. An impressive public servant, but an uninspired choice.

11. Evan Bayh: The conservative Democrat from Indiana has been a Governor and now a Senator. As the son of former Indiana Senator, Birch Bayh, Bayh can deliver Indiana into the Democratic column under the right circumstances. In the past, Bayh has demurred due to family obligations but how much longer can he wait before he is enveloped in….

12. The Shadow of Hilary Clinton: Senator Clinton will not be on the ticket this year, but her Presidential aspriations in 2008 have to be of concern to every potential VP. For Edwards and Bayh especially, they need to get on the ticket this year to mount a realistic challenge to Clinton in the 2008 primary if Bush wins again. The question for this year is, how much will Senator Clinton help John Kerry?

13. John McCain: I’m not even going to go there. It will never happen but…

My Choice: Democrats need to take a risk here. Its time to put a woman on the ticket again, endure all the Ferraro comparisons, and go for the soccer mom vote. No, not Hilary. Mary Landrieu is the right pick and will generate the type of buzz Kerry needs to put the Democrats over the top. If Kerry times this choice right, the press will be doing positive puff pieces on Landrieu for a few weeks before the GOP can attack her. By then, she may have cultivated an image that can’t be tarnished. Can you see her debating Dick Cheney? If Landrieu isn’t the choice, Bill Nelson would be ideal.



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