‘BITTER’ PILL TO SWALLOW.
and race to
their April 22 finish in the Keystone State.
By PATRICK HEALY
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
IMAGINE President Barack Obama is preparing his first State of the Union message. Would he want Vice President Hillary Rodham Clinton tut-tutting with edits or suggesting how she could write it better? Would he want to hear Second Spouse Bill Clinton wax on and on about favorite lines from his own speeches?
Alternatively, would the poll-obsessed Clintons want to wake up in the White House residence in 2009 and read about Vice President Obama’s sky-high popularity ratings, and how they make her look like his stern old lady?
For months, the Clinton and Obama campaigns have been hearing suggestions of a so-called dream ticket of Obama/Clinton or Clinton/Obama. Former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York has pressed the idea most aggressively – it also came up in last week’s debate – while a major Clinton supporter in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary, Gov. Edward G. Rendell, has blessed it, too.
And some uncommitted superdelegates – the party leaders and elected officials whose votes may determine the nominee – see such a unity ticket as a way to short-circuit a fight for the nomination all the way to the Democratic convention in August, and to blend the voter bases of the two candidates.
“It would be great to see them on the same ticket – they had attracted so many new voters and so much excitement, it seems so obvious,” said Sam Spencer, an uncommitted superdelegate from Maine. “Hillary would be the L.B.J. of 1960 – both served longer and had more experience, and L.B.J. was willing to take the vice presidency. And Obama would only come into his own more as vice president.”
All that stands in the way are a few pesky details – like the fact that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton want to be done with each other, starting now. And that Mr. Clinton bitterly believes that the Obama camp has portrayed him as a brutish, race-baiting campaigner, according to two associates of Mr. Clinton. On top of that, Obama aides assert, Mrs. Clinton’s baggage would damage Mr. Obama’s image in a New York minute. And they also believe that the Clinton camp’s negative tone seems a poor match for Mr. Hope.
To be precise, aides for both candidates would not rule out the idea of a joint ticket – though it was hard to hear it through all the laughing. Indeed, some Clinton aides said that Mrs. Clinton, should she catch up and surpass Mr. Obama in the fight for delegates, would almost certainly have to offer him the vice-presidential slot, given his tremendous popularity (and especially if he is still ahead in the popular vote).
Each might also be in a position to argue that he or she has the right of first refusal on the vice presidency – though Obama aides said that the oddity of having a former president as the spouse of a sitting vice president might be great enough to rule out asking Mrs. Clinton (or at least provide an excuse to do so), a point on which several political analysts agreed.
“It’s one thing to keep your running mate on message – it’d be much more difficult for Obama to keep a former president of the United States on his message, as well, for four or eight years, especially one with the skills and disposition of President Clinton,” said Joel K. Goldstein, an expert on the vice presidency and a professor at St. Louis University School of Law.
“And if Hillary is the presidential nominee, Obama might not want to accept a spot that really isn’t the second spot – it’s the third spot, behind Bill Clinton,” Professor Goldstein added.
To that end, said aides to Obama and Clinton and several superdelegates, it is hard to see the ticket at this stage.
“There’s not a chance,” Jon Ausman, an uncommitted superdelegate from Florida, said of a get-together by the two campaigns. “This has turned into a battle of egos, and strong personal animosity has slipped into this. Not to mention, the veep is usually a half-step or step in stature below the presidential candidate, and in both cases neither of them falls into that mold.”
But history has shown that politicians are willing to put aside animosities for the sake of victory. In 1960, John F. Kennedy found his running mate in Lyndon B. Johnson, the sitting Senate majority leader and an unrivaled force in Democratic politics. The ticket seemed unlikely up until the 1960 convention: Johnson’s allies had been critical of Kennedy and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, and the nominee’s brother Robert F. Kennedy loathed Johnson. But Kennedy decided at the 11th hour that Johnson could help him in the South and among the party’s senior statesmen.
More recently, Ronald Reagan picked George Bush in 1980 and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts chose former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina in 2004, even though the two sets of running mates were not great fits as ideological soul mates or personalities (and in Mr. Kerry’s case, associates say, he would probably have preferred former Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, or Senator John McCain of Arizona, now the presumptive Republican nominee). But Reagan and Mr. Kerry saw their choices as bringing balance and strengths to the ticket – and the first President Bush and Mr. Edwards did not fight their rivals to the convention.
“All of the arguments about how rivals don’t like each other would fall away if either thinks the other could help them win,” said Doris Kearns Goodwin, the biographer of Johnson and other presidents. “And Obama and Clinton do fit in a jigsaw-puzzle way. She brings women, older voters, blue-collar workers, Hispanics, and he brings elites, liberals, the young and the crucially necessary black vote.”
Beyond blending their respective voting blocs, however, it is not clear whether Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton would provide such a boost as a vice-presidential candidate, other political analysts said.
Either would be expected to win the home state of the other in the general election (Illinois for Mr. Obama, and New York for Mrs. Clinton), and aides to both say they expect most Democratic voters to unify behind the nominee, despite the ill will of the primary season. Many elder figures in the party either like or support Mr. Obama, like Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and the 2004 and 2000 presidential nominees, Mr. Kerry (who has endorsed Mr. Obama) and Al Gore (who has not made an endorsement but is said to admire Mr. Obama). And, other than drawing out the black vote, it is not clear that Mr. Obama, as the ticket’s No. 2, could win over enough voters who might be on the fence about a second Clinton presidency to make a difference in the fall.
“The idea is convenient, but I don’t know if it addresses what the party needs,” Michael Cryor, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party and an uncommitted superdelegate, said about a unified ticket.
Moreover, the two campaigns have been brutal to each other. One senior Obama aide said that, if they did join forces, the Clinton aides would inject “their toxicity and negativism into our campaign.” The Clinton camp sounded just as chilly.
“He has gone sharply negative,” Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said of Mr. Obama in a conference call on Monday. “There are so many negative ads that he has up, I can’t keep track of them.”
Nor has the Clinton side eased up on suggesting that Mr. Obama would have problems winning the general election – words that the Republicans are likely to throw back in Mr. Obama’s face if he is the nominee – especially if he chooses Mrs. Clinton as his running mate.