Saturday, April 24, 2004

Ticket Talk
A friend checks in from Iowa this morning with news of an event the Kerry campaign is calling "historic," set for Sunday in Des Moines. My friend wonders if it isn't going to be the announcement of Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as Kerry's running mate. Could be--and Vilsack is still on the media's short list of possibilities. But it's far too early for Kerry to make the pick. If he waits, he can gauge the pick for maximum political impact.

If you search "Kerry running mate" on Google News this morning, what you get are a bunch of stories about how Hillary isn't interested in the gig, and reports on Kerry's Southern campaign swing this week, on which he was joined by John Edwards, Max Cleland, Bob Graham, and Florida senator Bill Nelson. Here's how I'd handicap the betting right now: If Kerry wanted to make the most popular pick right now, on April 24, he'd grab John McCain. I hope he doesn't--it would be a tremendous pick to get elected but lousy when it came time to govern, although there is a type of precedent for it. In 1864, with the Civil War raging, Lincoln chose Andrew Johnson, a Unionist Democrat from Tennessee, to run with him, to make the point that Union was all. (Lincoln even discouraged Republicans from calling themselves Republicans in that year, for that reason.) A Kerry/McCain ticket could make a similar point in reverse--that Bush is isolated within his own party, and that there's a united opposition to him made up of both Democrats and alienated Republicans.

McCain could still be the best option later this summer, but other people may be better choices by then, too. If Florida remains as competitive as it is right now, and if it looks like Kerry might have a shot anywhere else in the South, Bob Graham might help the ticket. And if Iraq goes further to hell, particularly after the June 30th abdication, Wesley Clark becomes a good choice. Imagine the political benefit in Kerry announcing, as Iraq dissolves into civil war, that if he's elected, Clark will become his point man on Iraq. That could be an argument for Clark as Secretary of State, too. (It would be politically advantageous for Kerry to start rolling out his Cabinet choices before the election. Surely some swing voters might have had second thoughts about Bush last time had they known they would be getting Ashcroft, too--although Ashcroft had to lose to a dead man in November before he was available to become AG.) Cleland would be an interesting choice, too--a triple-amputee who got smeared out of his Georgia Senate seat in 2000 would make a hell of a contrast on the debate stage with chickenhawk Cheney.

If Kerry picked Vilsack, especially now, it would be a blunder of epic proportions. Vilsack, although a nice guy and a popular governor, brings little to the ticket apart from geographical balance. He certainly doesn't fit the Gore/Cheney "chief operating officer" model for VPs. So let's hope the term "historic event" is just hype, and that it's not really so historic as to box the campaign into a corner there's no need to get into yet.

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