Friday, November 13, 2015

The State of the Race: Hillary Clinton's Vice Presidential Contenders

Since we did this Tuesday with Marco Rubio, it seems only fair that we also have a go at Hillary Clinton's potential running mates, particularly since it seems more and more likely that she knows who she's going to have to counterpunch with the Florida senator becoming the invisible primary frontrunner for the nomination across the aisle.  Clinton knows that with Rubio against her her biggest challenges will surround her age, her "yesterday's news" (she's going to need to have a better line than "I'll be the ultimate outsider as a woman" because Rubio will tear that to shreds in a way Bernie Sanders wouldn't dare), her career politician angle (again, the outsider line has to go), and she'll need to find a way to counter Rubio's Florida punch without having an actual Florida running mate (right now Charlie Crist is cursing himself for being a Republican in 2006).  With that said, let's take a look at the most likely contenders.

A Quick Note: You aren't seeing a few names on this list because I just don't buy them as contenders.  For all the "feel the Bern" love, Sanders as a runningmate seems as unlikely as it was for Al Gore to pick Bill Bradley, particularly since Clinton has as much of a chance of losing to Sanders as the Vice President did in 2000 to Bradley.  Elizabeth Warren is too much of a loose cannon for the very buttoned-up Clinton campaign, and I doubt that Hillary Clinton would want to risk an all-female ticket with Warren when other options would be better.  Finally, in almost any normal situation I would include Gov. Terry McAuliffe, one of the few success stories of the Obama administration in terms of a seat the Democrats picked up in a close, important swing state, but his long history with the Clintons invites too many accusations of cronyism.  McAuliffe could still benefit though, as picking a Virginia senator would open up a seat for him to run for after his current term is over (a prospect the ambitious McAuliffe has to be salivating over).  Gov. Mike Easley (one of my dark horse contenders) and Sen. Jon Tester (who would be on this list were it not for him running the DSCC) were both just out of the running.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN)
10. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN)

Pro: He comes with a lot of money (don't knock $10 million that late in the campaign), was an early Clinton backer in 2008 after he dropped out of the race (Bayh would be much higher on this list were it seven years ago), and is both a governor and a senator, a big plus for the Democrats in terms of experience if that's the angle they're going for (and I suspect with Rubio running against them, it will be).  Bayh's been a golden boy in the party for a long time now, and this is probably his last real shot at national office considering how long he's been out of the Senate and the governor's mansion.
Con: He left the Senate in 2010, handing his seat off to the GOP in what many Democrats (myself included) thought was the coward's way out.  He has refused runs to return to office since (including next year's governor's and senator's races), and there's no guarantee he could give Clinton Indiana in the electoral college.  Plus, he's pretty moderate-if Clinton needs to shore up moderates he's a decent, if a bit bland, option, but lately it's been more about finding new base voters, which Bayh isn't going to do.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
9. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Pro: The senior senator from Colorado won in a rough night for the Democrats in 2010, even though his political career had been left for dead twice that cycle (both in the general and the primary).  Bennet has connections from his time in the DSCC, and is clearly building up a bit of a following considering his youth and swing state status.  On that last point, Clinton is going to be looking to shore up a state like Colorado if Rubio puts Florida out-of-reach, and Bennet is the better option between he and the occasionally bumbling Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Con: He's up for reelection next year, and even if he can run for both offices (not sure about the law on that one), does she want to open herself up to an easy "Bennet has a backup plan" attack?  Plus, he's also relatively moderate on a couple of issues, particularly on the environment, and that could be an easy campaign ad.

Gov. Steve Beshear (D-KY)
8. Gov. Steve Beshear (D-KY)

Pro: I actually resisted adding Beshear initially, but there's so much to offer here that I couldn't quite go without him on the countdown.  The outgoing governor of Kentucky is kind of the unlikely poster child for the Affordable Care Act, but the Bluegrass State has become the gold standard for how the ACA can work, and Beshear is insanely popular in the state.  His blue-collar appeal could work well in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
Con: He couldn't deliver Kentucky for HRC and his signature achievement in office may be going by the wayside.  Plus his age (he's 71) and his conservative politics (particularly on the environment and gay marriage) may not jive with the message that Democrats are hoping to instill on the base.  They'd be better off begging him to run for the Senate against Rand Paul.

Sec. Tom Vilsack (D-IA)
7. Sec. Tom Vilsack (D-IA)

Pro: He was an early endorser of Hillary Clinton in 2008 after his quick-but-failed run for the White House himself (the Clintons have long memories), and has experience both as a governor and as a cabinet secretary during the Obama administration, which should give him a solid amount of experience with the national press (something critical after being thrown so ferociously into the national spotlight).  Plus, Iowa is a swing state that Clinton would like to do well in, and Vilsack may be able to help in Midwestern states.
Con: His role in the Shirley Sherrod scandal will not sit well with African-American Democrats, whom Hillary Clinton needs to turn out in great numbers, and he's been passed over twice now for the VP slot-maybe he just doesn't have what it takes to translate to the next level politically.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
6. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Pro: She's insanely popular in her home state, easily winning reelection in 2012 and very likable on the stump.  She's young, a former prosecutor with hardly a skeleton in her closet (which will help in both a debate and in the "first do no harm" column).  Plus, she's good with the national press (she stole the White House Correspondents Dinner a few years ago), and is considered by almost everyone as a senator who fancies getting just a tad bit higher.
Con: The all-female ticket is not happening.  If Klobuchar were a man, she'd be at Number 1 or 2, but an all-female ticket has never even won on a gubernatorial level-it seems unthinkable that Hillary Clinton would risk such a venture without more evidence it could sail.  Still, Klobuchar is too perfect-on-paper not to include on the list.

Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA)
5. Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA)

Pro: The former governor of Massachusetts was a huge hit at the DNC in 2012, getting rave remarks while Martin O'Malley's were surprisingly tepid (after seeing his presidential campaign, we suddenly understand why on that latter point).  As one of the most prominent African-American Democrats in the country, Patrick would be a way for Clinton to boost potential support from African-American voters, and as a governor he doesn't have the "unpopular member of Congress" vibe coming off of him.
Con: He doesn't really seem interested in the job.  Patrick eschewed a potentially name recognition-enhancing post as Attorney General (many people thought he would have had the job if he'd wanted it), and has been adamant that he wants to rejoin the private sector.  Plus, between Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, Democrats may not want to bet once again on a Bay State politician.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
4. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Pro: A young politician with a huge following and appeal amongst Millennials is exactly what Hillary Clinton needs, and no other politician can stake a claim on such a resume as Cory Booker.  The New Jersey senator may not also have been a governor, but was a mayor of a large city (so executive experience is checked), is aces with the national press, and fits pretty well into Clinton's DNC-style persona.  Plus, while identity politics is hardly a guarantee, the first African-American Vice President may help with black voters in key swing states.
Con: He's a huge star, and while no one can really upstage Hillary Clinton in that department, don't think that the former First Lady hasn't seen Game Change.  The bigger issue is that Booker is unmarried-will the United States go for a man who doesn't have a ring on his finger on a national ticket?  They only have twice, and those incidents both happened before the Civil War.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)
3. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)

Pro: I honestly think that the Top 3 will truly be Hillary Clinton's shortlist, and it's easy to see why Warner makes the cut.  The wildly-successful businessman who became a very popular governor and then senator is in-line with what Clinton is trying to go for-he's centrist, but not base-alienatingly so, and has survived the Washington Press Corps (quite the ringer) for years.  Plus, Virginia is fast-emerging as Clinton's most critical swing state, particularly if Rubio/Kasich is (as I predict) her opposition.
Con: He's pretty vanilla (this is the definition of a safe choice), and if Clinton needs excitement on the ticket, Warner's not the direction to go.  Plus, he's been considered and passed over before (in 2008), and won a shockingly close reelection in 2014.  He's Top 3 for a reason, but those debits keep him from being the likeliest of scenarios.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
2. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)

Pro: Kaine's long and successful resume is probably the first and best reason to consider him.  He's been a mayor, lieutenant governor, governor, senator, and DNC Chair (and has never lost a race), and through these roles he's pretty sterling on the stump and with the press.  He speaks fluent Spanish (don't think that wouldn't be an asset), and would likely bring with him the Old Dominion, a critical piece of Hillary Clinton's math (let's put it this way-if Hillary Clinton has every Kerry state sewn up and assumes that Tim Kaine will give her Virginia, she'll be short just Nevada and New Mexico to become president-that's a bet she'd happily agree to).
Con: If all Hillary Clinton needs is Virginia, she'll make this deal in a heart beat.  However, with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire also being threats to defect, she wants to make sure she's competing in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and other Hispanic-leaning states.  As a result, while Kaine is good, there's someone slightly better on-paper.

Sec. Julian Castro (D-TX)
1. Sec. Julian Castro (D-TX)

Pro: Castro is the new favored candidate of pretty much every pundit.  He's a former San Antonio mayor, Latino (potentially countering those swing Latino voters who might be attracted to Rubio), worked in the Obama administration, and has been a Hillary Clinton cheerleader.  He was the keynote speaker at the DNC a few years ago for a reason, and it's worth noting a young man named Barack Obama was also a keynote speaker four years before he was swept into the White House.
Con: Castro isn't the proven commodity that Kaine is, the obvious celebrity that Booker is, nor the tried-and-true loyalist that Vilsack is.  His appeal is that he's theoretically lightning-in-a-bottle, a way to re-energize the campaign when the American public is pretty much sick of everything related to politics next July/August.  That comes with risks, and I suspect Clinton will only go with Castro if she feels he can land her critical votes in Hispanic-leaning states like Florida, Nevada, and Colorado.  If not, expect a Virginia senator, but I think the evidence is solidly in Castro's corner for the moment.

There you have it-my guesses for the Clinton runningmates.  Who am I missing?  Who should be higher/lower?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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