Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

Who’s more of a threat to Hillary?

According to a recent article, Clinton supporters will be outraged if Obama picks a woman other than Hillary for VP. As Geraldine Ferraro says, “”If he picked Claire McCaskill or (Janet) Napolitano (or Kathleen) Sebelius, I think it would annoy women.” Meanwhile, NOW president Kim Gandy (who, bizarrely, seems to be under the impression that Obama is considering Bob Barr), says, “It seems like the smart choice will be to pick Hillary Clinton because she adds so much to the ticket but the second choice should be a nominee who supported Hillary Clinton, to try and bring the sides together.”

If you believe the latest rumblings, Obama may end up following the second part of Gandy’s advice and picking Evan Bayh, a prominent Hillary supporter from the primaries. But would that really be a better scenario for Hillary than if Obama were to pick Sebelius? Consider three potential outcomes of an Obama candidacy:

1. Obama loses the ’08 election. In this case, it won’t matter who his running mate was. The party will return hat-in-hand to Hillary, who will likely waltz to the ’12 election uncontested. (I know, I know, but she’d have to be the worst politician on the planet to blow it again). Besides, whoever Obama ends up picking this year is unlikely to be much of a threat; the losing VP candidates in the last two elections have gone nowhere in the subsequent primaries.

2. Obama wins in ’08 but is defeated for re-election. Not sure if Hillary would be as automatic in ’16 — it’s hard to know what the political situation will be eight years from now — but Obama’s VP would still be a long shot. As both Mondale and Quayle learned, it’s not easy to run for president when you’re associated with a failed one-termer.

3. Obama wins two terms. This is probably the most likely scenario (Obama is likely to win this year, and presidents generally get re-elected). It would also probably be the worst-case scenario for Hillary. She’ll be 68 by 2016 (and if you thought the first major female candidate faced a lot of sexism this year, just wait until she’s the first older female candidate). If Obama has a disastrous second term, any Dem will be in trouble that year. If he remains popular, his VP will instantly become the frontrunner — and again looking at the historical record, incumbent VPs are rarely denied the nomination.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Sebelius will also be 68 in 2016. Now, I don’t know enough about her to know if she really wants to be president or if she’d play more of a Cheney role. But what I do know is that Bayh, who will only be 60, certainly does, and is far more likely than Sebelius to spend the next eight years laying the groundwork for a future bid. (The parallels between Bayh ’16 and Gore ’00 would be downright spooky.)

So, to the extent that Hillary supporters should be worrying about the effect of Obama’s VP choice on her political future, they should be far more concerned with Bayh than with Sebelius. To put it another way, her biggest threat isn’t estrogen; it’s youth and ambition.


August 6, 2008 - Posted by | Veepstakes | ,


  1. Really great analysis, and agree completely.

    Moreover, the whole notion that a Hillary supporter would be fine with another male as VP, but upset with another woman is so disturbingly irrational and sexist that I actually am starting to think it’s not true.

    What Ferraro thinks has to be separated from most women.

    But your analysis shows how ironic their threats towards Sebelius are.

    Comment by dansac | August 6, 2008 | Reply

  2. Good analysis. I wonder when Ferraro became spokeswoman for all American women?

    Comment by zenbowl | August 7, 2008 | Reply

  3. The Clinton holdouts are really bashing Sebelius because she’s competition for a limited demographic (the subset of women who look for a woman to vote for) that Hillary had to herself, at least this time. Her job in ’16 becomes nearly impossible if she can’t dominate this “base”, especially when you consider the age factor you have mentioned.

    I agree that youth / ambition / change is a threat to Sen. Clinton’s prospects; that was the entire plot of this year’s story. However, the die-hard Clintonites won’t view a candidate of that sort as a mortal threat to “the base”, and therefore won’t react as angrily.

    Comment by Mr. X | August 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. To add to zenbowl’s comments, I think the Ferraros of this world speak for a certain subset of women — let’s call them the “high-info” Clinton supporters. My guess is that low-info Clinton voters probably would respond well to Sebelius, which, as Mr. X points out, is probably why the high-infos view her as such a threat.

    That said, while there are many good reasons for Obama to pick Sebelius, I don’t believe that “reaching out to women” is one of them. But I also think Sebelius is impressive enough in her own right that she won’t come across as a token pick (unlike a certain VP candidate from two decades ago).

    Comment by gdh1 | August 7, 2008 | Reply

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