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A-Veeping We Will Go

Reihan takes another strong line on the VP selection by the Democratic nominee:

The question is no longer whether Barack Obama should select Jim Webb as his nominee. It is whether he can justify not doing so.

I don’t think that’s the question.  As sociologically fun as an Obama-Webb ticket would be, let’s stop and consider this for a moment.  Leave aside for the moment that Webb has all but said that he will flee the country if someone tries to make him the running mate (this is only a small exaggeration of how much he doesn’t want the job, further confirming in everyone’s mind that he is probably the only one who deserves it).  Webb’s success in shepherding the “new GI Bill” through the Senate is an impressive achievement, and it does the junior Senator from Virginia credit that he has carried the genuine concern he showed during his career and during his ’06 campaign for veterans into the Senate to good effect.  Those of us on the right who cheered his election can take some satisfaction that he is proving to be a very capable legislator, and he is showing the President the way as he said he would.  Still, I am amazed that the first thought when confronted with “a masterful legislative tactician” in one party or the other is, “How can we get this man into the Naval Observatory and waste his talents?”  There are plenty of objections to putting two first-term Senators on the same ticket as it is, and if it is true that virtually no one votes for the Vice President it’s not clear that Webb brings concrete benefits to the campaign, even if he would clearly be an asset in a Democratic administration.  Meanwhile, like the even more ludicrous idea of putting Bobby Jindal on the Republican ticket, selecting Webb all but ensures that any hopes of executive office that Webb might have hinge on the outcome of the election.  Losing VP nominees may go back to their old jobs or are never heard from again.  In this case, what’s best for Obama may not be good for Webb, Virginia or the Senate Democrats.     

Likewise, it shocks me when I read about people seriously contemplating Mark Warner as Obama’s running mate.  In the case of Webb, assuming the Democrats win the presidential race, you would be depriving the Senate Democrats of one of their most promising new members and opening up a narrowly won Senate seat to a fresh contest after Gov. Kaine appoints a placeholder for the bulk of Webb’s term.  In the case of Warner, this abandons a sure-thing Democratic victory in the election to replace John Warner and throws some poor last-minute replacement into the middle of a campaign he will have a much harder time winning.  Unless Obama’s election hinges on Virginia alone, and it’s not clear that this is the state he needs to worry about the most, Mark Warner would do a new Obama administration a lot more good in the Senate as an additional Democratic vote in support of his agenda than he would as a VP nominee who might not even be needed in order to carry Virginia. 

Strangely enough, Ohio and Pennsylvania appear to be less likely wins than Virginia right now, and as Reihan and I have been saying for some time in different ways it is the party that can appeal to those voters of the “lower-middle” in the Midwest that will probably prevail.  Webb may help some with these voters with his populist message, but then why not the Ohio populist Strickland who was just elected with 60% of the vote?  On the other hand, if the selection should have many years of executive experience, Rendell remains a decent choice.  A Sebelius choice just seems bizarre, and were he to choose her it would be almost a request to be defeated.  Rasmussen Reports has the numbers:

Twenty-eight percent (28%) of Kansas voters are more likely to vote for Obama is Sebelius is on the ticket while 34% say they are less likely to vote for Obama with Sebelius as the Vice-Presidential candidate.

Not only does Sebelius not help Obama in Kansas, where he gets trounced anyway, but she actually seems to hurt him (!) where one might think she would be a valuable asset.  Also, SUSA’s running mate match-ups, while hardly ideal measurements given how little-known many of the named candidates are, show that Obama either losesmanyswingstates or runs much more weakly when Sebelius is on the ticket.  In fact, the one running mate with whom Obama consistently runs better is John Edwards.  Presumably some significant part of this is name recognition and familiarity, but it does seem worth remembering that Sebelius’ snoozeworthy response to the State of the Union has been the public’s only experience with Sebelius and it may have done some lasting damage to her national reputation.   

Meanwhile, I think Reihan is still in fulminating mode:

Even if Webb murdered someone in an alleyway in a fit of pique or been paid vast sums by the Chinese Politburo for detailed intelligence about American naval vessels, he would still be a far stronger and more appealing vice presidential nominee than Hillary Clinton.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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