The Obama two-step

Now that we know for sure Obama is going to the dance, who’s he gonna bring as his partner?
By STEVEN STARK  |  June 18, 2008

Inundated with stories in the past few weeks about the end of the Clinton campaign and the rise of Obama-mania, the press missed the development that is likely to have the strongest impact on the election: Barack Obama lost his best vice-president option when Ohio governor TED STRICKLAND removed himself from consideration for the number-two spot.

The importance of vice-president selections is always overrated. But in Obama’s case, it will have more importance than usual, since voters will use this first “presidential” decision to size up his approach to governing. And in a close election, the selection could prove critical.

There’s talk among Democrats that Obama needs to pick someone as new and fresh as he is to preserve the “brand,” but the truth is that there’s more than enough glitz at the top of the ticket. What Obama needs is a reassuring figure who won’t get him in trouble, and who hopefully can bring him a key state.

That’s why Strickland made the most sense. There are no perfect choices, but Strickland, 67, came close. The GOP has never won the presidency without carrying the Buckeye State, and as the popular governor of Ohio, Strickland could have gone a long way toward putting it in the Democratic column. He was originally a Hillary Clinton supporter, so choosing him would have helped unify the party. His relative age and experience (he’s also served a number of terms in Congress) would have provided a nice complement to Obama’s youth, and Strickland’s appeal to working-class whites (he has a strong rating from the NRA, for example) might have helped Obama with a group he has so far had trouble reaching.

With Strickland gone, Obama’s best choice is probably Pennsylvania governor ED RENDELL, 64, another Clinton supporter, as well as a former Philadelphia mayor and general chairman of the DNC. Pennsylvania doesn’t have quite the swing-state importance of Ohio, but Obama can’t afford to lose it, and Rendell might help in neighboring New Jersey, too, as well as among his fellow Jews. (Would some voters balk at a ticket of an African-American and a Jew? Maybe a few, but they wouldn’t be voting Democratic anyway.)

And then there was one
In truth, all the other possibilities being mentioned in the press have major problems. The Virginia duo of current governor TIM KAINE and former secretary of the Navy turned first-term senator JIM WEBB might put the state in play, but Webb is too interesting (yes, that’s a downside for a veep) and outspoken to put on the national scene in a short nine-week campaign, when any diversion could be costly. As for Kaine, he’s as new as Obama is — hardly an asset.

Governor KATHLEEN SIBELIUS of Kansas? Same problem as Kaine — not much experience. The former military man, retired General JAMES JONES? Again, he’d have to make a very quick, favorable impression on the nation, and the move from the insulated military to the wide-open world of politics might be too big of a leap. (He’s also close to John McCain.)

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