Thursday, May 08, 2008

Veepstakes Continued...

Today’s Crystal Ball by Larry Sabato: The presidential Democrats may still be tussling, but soon the national focus will turn to the vice presidential selection frenzy. The Crystal Ball has long discussed the possible candidates on both sides, but which contender should each nominee select? The Crystal Ball does not endorse or support any candidate for any office, but we asked two veteran, skilled political observers to argue, from their perspective, which possible Veep ought to be chosen by Barack Obama and John McCain. (Should Hillary Clinton somehow manage to upset Obama's applecart, we'll publish a similar piece from her perspective.) Thanks to the distinguished political scientist, Professor Gerald Pomper of Rutgers University, and the lively and talented writer Kathryn Lopez of National Review for their essays, which appear below.

MCCAIN'S VICE-PRESIDENT? Mitt Romney as running mate
Kathryn Jean Lopez, Special Guest Columnist

For Mitt Romney, the suspension of his campaign at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference two days after Super Tuesday marked the beginning of a new and promising campaign. As he ended his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, he staked for himself a position as leader for the conservative future. It's a good position to be in for a potential 2012 run for the presidency. And it's a position that makes him an attractive option for John McCain's No. 2 in 2008.

In his withdrawal speech, Romney announced that "conservative principles are needed now more than ever" -- hitting the economy, the culture, and the war. One Romney adviser referred to the speech and the pullout as "a down-payment on a conservative future." Romney's biggest value to McCain, though, comes from his experience in business. John McCain has no such experience and famously said during the New Hampshire primary that "the issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." (He added that he owns former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's book.) That quote will come back to haunt McCain once general-election time finally arrives.

Mitt Romney's greatest asset for McCain -- who has been in Congress for almost a quarter of a century -- is, therefore, his executive experience, most of it in the business world, most notably as vice president of Bain & Company, Inc. from 1978 to 1984, and as founder of Bain Capital, venture-capital savior of the likes of Staples, Domino's Pizza, and Sports Authority. Romney famously turned around the corrupt and broke ($379 million in debt) Salt Lake City Olympics and cleaned up a Massachusetts budget running $3 billion in the red without raising taxes. At a time when the country may be in a wartime recession, Romney emanates a confident
competence (and he would do it, as veep nominee, alongside a GOP presidential nominee with a mixed tax-cutting record). Choosing Romney, then, could be as practical as politics gets. When in the voting booth, partisan preferences may pale in comparison to the attraction of a guarantee of competence in the executive.

McCain, if he chooses Romney, may be wise to give Vice President Romney more than economics in his assignment portfolio. As two-time Cabinet secretary William J. Bennett recently put it on his radio show, "McCain would do the war. Romney would do domestic." Social conservatives might hold up McCain's speech this week on the judiciary and say, great blueprint, Senator. But we don't trust you, Senator. (In fact, former Department of Justice official Mark R. Levin, another talk-show host, said just that in the wake of the judges speech: "I don't trust this guy.") Take that basically sound blueprint and give us someone we trust. Romney, who fought judicial activism on marriage in Massachusetts -- and made the issue a key part of his campaign for president --has some credentials there.

The governor makes electoral-map sense, too. First of all, now we can agree the Mormon factor is a plus. Utah's a lock, he won the caucus there with 90 percent of the vote. But Utah's not the battleground: Michigan is. And Romney's favorite-son status there makes it a likely delivery for McCain with Romney on the ticket. (Romney's economics talk went over well there, too, you might recall.) Romney's already been to Michigan on McCain's behalf and no doubt will return. Would the Michigan effect spread to Ohio? McCain seems already to have an appreciation for Romney's electoral assets: Romney recently spoke to the Nevada state Republican convention; Romney won the Nevada caucus with 51 percent of the vote to McCain's 13 percent. Since endorsing McCain, Romney has hit the media trail for McCain, too -- including talking to radio and TV giant Sean Hannity -- at the McCain communications shop's request.

And speaking of numbers, Romney proved to be the Republican dream of a fundraiser and money source: He ran with some $47 million of his own during primary season. On the calendar this week, Romney has a meeting set up in Houston with McCain and Romney 2008's finance chairs and co-chairs to encourage those who are holding back to give to the senator's cash-starved campaign.

Proving how deep his team-player loyalty is, Romney even skipped the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., to speak to the Nevada state Republican convention in April. (Full disclosure: Romney was to sit at National Review's table; NR endorsed him for president last December.) Romney will also prove himself a team player when he campaigns and raises funds for some 30 congressmen running this year, as part of his soon-to-be-announced political-action committee; the candidates Romney supports will reflect his full-spectrum conservatism (further giving conservatives confidence that he has a commitment to their movement, even if he hasn't always been a member).

One last numbers point: John McCain is a 71-year-old who looks it. At a young 61, Romney provides a vigorous safety net for those worried "what if" when they look at McCain. Mitt Romney and John McCain, of course, would be an odd couple -- they have a past. If the Arizona senator believes what he said during their big showdown in Florida this winter, their differences may be irreconcilable. On McCain's signature issue -- "No Surrender" in Iraq -- McCain accused the former Massachusetts governor of being on the wrong side of the debate, i.e., on the side of surrender. The rap against Romney was bogus: McCain's criticism was that during a TV interview last year, Romney endorsed the idea of private timetables between the United States and Iraq. This is not inconsistent with proposals McCain himself has considered. But McCain remembers that the word "timetable" was a Beltway buzzword last year for withdrawing from Iraq. Getting out of Iraq, however, is not what Romney was talking about. One can reasonably criticize his word choice in a heated environment, but he wasn't a cut-and-runner.

Move on, in other words. Or rather, Senator McCain, remember -- which has endorsed Senator Obama. The general-election opponent has a way of focusing the mind. In his CPAC speech, Romney said: "I will continue to stand for conservative principles. I will fight alongside you for all the things we believe in. And one of those things is that we cannot allow the next President of the United States to retreat in the face of evil extremism." That's a message that can run with McCain.

Bottom line: Vetted outsider Mitt Romney adds to Washington-insider McCain. He's a running mate with pluses, which, most importantly, includes being a plausible president -- 294 delegates' worth of primary voters thought so, anyway. His resume speaks for itself. McCain could do worse than pick Mitt Romney -- and he's got to know that, if he wants to win in November.

OBAMA'S VICE-PRESIDENT? Jim Webb as running mate
Gerald M. Pomper, Special Guest Columnist

Virginia Senator James Webb should be the Democratic candidate for vice-president. Senator Barack Obama is close to winning the Democratic nomination for president. His overwhelming victory in North Carolina and virtual tie in Indiana, with a forthcoming tide of superdelegates, will bring him within a hundred votes of the nomination. Obama has victory in sight, unless the iron laws of arithmetic are repealed by superdelegates meeting in "smoke-filled rooms" in an age of "no smoking" edicts in air-conditioned retreats.

Obama must soon turn to the choice of a running mate. The best choice, in my opinion, would be Senator Webb. To make the case, let's first dispose of two contrary arguments. The first is that party tickets need to be balanced geographically, with each of the running mates bringing in their home states from different regions. The reality is that almost no voters are swayed when a native son is in second place on the ticket. Jack Kemp could not carry New York for the Republicans in 1996, just as John Edwards could not bring North Carolina into the Democratic fold in 2004.

In 2008, the outworn argument for electoral balance comes in a new form: advocacy of Hillary Clinton as Obama's running mate. Some politicians see this as the Democratic "dream ticket," combining the distinct appeals the two candidates showed in the party primaries. If elected, that ticket would bring a President Obama sniping from his vice-president and the anguish of the likely intrusive pretensions of Bill Clinton as a self-designated "co-president." But In cold-hearted political terms the combination doesn't make sense.

Senator Clinton would not, in fact, bring that much to the ticket. Her strongest appeal obviously is to women. But women are likely to vote predominantly Democratic in any case, as they have for the past quarter of a century. Would women facing a recession and mounting health costs really support John McCain's tax cuts for the wealthy and his ineffective health program? Would the most outspoken feminists really endorse a candidate pledged to appoint the Supreme Court Justices who would reverse Roe v. Wade?

The real "gender gap" is not caused by women, but by men. The Democrats have been losing presidential elections because men have left their ranks in greater numbers than women have come to support the party. By my calculations, the effect of these movements in 2000 was a net gain of four million votes for Bush over Gore, far more important in his "victory" than the Florida vote manipulations. In 2004, Bush won majorities among both white men and white women, with white men again decisive, 62 percent voting for the President.

An Obama-Clinton ticket would be historic in overturning barriers of race and gender. But confronting the electorate with both a black and a woman candidate at the same time might well try its patience beyond the limits of well-meaning tolerance. It is simply realistic, even if not ennobling, to remember that white males constitute forty percent of the electorate, and that they too may want to identify with some candidate. Of course there is such a candidate in the race -- Republican John McCain. Democrats need to counter his appeal.

The true contribution of a running mate is what the selection signals about the presidential candidate. In these terms, the most successful recent vice-presidential choice -- in electoral terms -- was George W. Bush's selection of Dick Cheney. Bush faced doubts about his foreign policy competence. Cheney, with vast experience and service in two stints as Secretary of Defense, seemingly certified Bush's competence.

Webb fits Obama's true needs. The Illinois Senator's greatest deficiency is his lack of experience in foreign policy and military security. Clinton has made that her chief point of attack -- as in the now-classic "3 A.M. telephone" ad -- and this area is obviously McCain's greatest strength. There is no way for Obama to match McCain, even if he could manufacture some "sniper fire," but the right running mate could give him a measure of credibility, in much the same way as Cheney helped Bush.

Webb is a former Navy officer and Vietnam veteran (exactly matching McCain), and a former Secretary of the Navy bringing directly relevant executive experience. He won four military medals in Vietnam, and was wounded twice, a record that, along with awards from the American Legion and VFW, would repel attacks by SwiftBoaters. His term at the Pentagon came under Ronald Reagan, when Webb was a Republican, an advantage in Obama's effort to achieve a new electoral coalition. With this military background, he reinforces the Democrats' case against the Iraqi intervention, a position he has articulated from the beginning of the war and with particular force, including a direct confrontation with President Bush at a White House reception. As a novelist, non-fiction author and Emmy-winning television reporter, he also shows intellectual distinction.

Webb also would bring specific political advantages to the Democratic ticket. His rural roots, vigorous language and championing of working class values would compensate for Obama's evident weaknesses among these voters. Webb provides a populist platform on corporate regulation, trade, taxation and health care that would further extend the party's appeal to its lower-income base. Born in Missouri, educated in Nebraska, California and the Naval Academy in Maryland, he encapsulates a national electoral appeal. Finally, to the limited extent that state residence matters, he would help to switch Virginia into the Democratic column for the first election since 1964.

Webb may have some deficiencies as a candidate, related to sexist writings done thirty years ago and his occasional indelicate language. He, and Obama, would need to make special efforts to clear those hurdles to bring women voters back into the Democratic fold. They can succeed by emphasizing the evident differences between them and McCain on both economic and social policies, as well as the Iraq war.

On his own, we can expect Webb to outshine any of the pallid Republicans being considered for the McCain ticket, to close the party's "security gap," and to provide the necessary appeal to white male voters. For Senator Obama, Webb's selection would show both audacity and hope.

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