We are not yet at the 2014 midterm elections, and already election fever is sweeping the country- for 2016, of course. Among the Democrats, the question is simply: will Hillary run, or won’t she? I would guess, for a multitude of reasons, that she will, but if I am mistaken, there isn’t a very exciting back bench of candidates: Andrew Cuomo? Kirsten Gillibrand? Elizabeth Warren? Martin O’Malley? For Republicans, the situation is even more confusing: there are more than a half dozen people who could conceivably walk away with the nomination as it appears at this time: Chris Christie could recover from (or be exonerated from) the scandals surrounding his office, but don’t count out TEA Party favorites Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, Midwestern governors Scott Walker and John Kasich, or Floridians Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.
The only prediction I am comfortable making is this: 2012 will be the last time in the lifetime of anybody reading this in 2014 that we will see any major party put forth a ticket of two white men. Romney-Ryan will be the last. And we are certainly never going to see a major party put forth a ticket of two white Protestant men (the Bush-Cheney ticket will be the end of that line.)
But suppose conventional wisdom holds, and Hillary Clinton does, in fact, become the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nominee, and consequently, the first woman to be nominated by a major party for the office of president? Now, I love, love, love the “veepstakes” as they are sometimes called, so my natural follow-up question is: “who does she pick for a running mate?” While the Democrats may not have many other obvious nominees for president, their bench is actually pretty good for running-mates. Mindful of this, I am going to start by ruling out a number of demographics.
I. No Women: I hate to say this. I wish it were not so. I just do not think that the United States will respond well to an all-female ticket. That’s a shame, because there has never been a greater crop of potentially excellent female vice-presidents. So, many apologies to Amy Klobuchar, Maria Cantwell, Tammy Baldwin, Christine Gregoire, Tammy Duckworth, and Janet Napolitano.
II. No African-Americans. Again, I hate to say this. I wish it were not so. But after Barack Obama, the public is likely to regard this as “yesterday’s news”. So, sorry Deval Patrick and Cory Booker.
III. Be mindful of age. Hillary will be 69 years old on election day, 2016. With this in mind, it is unlikely that she will pick a senior citizen to run with her. Over 65s will have some strikes against them, then. We might eliminate two capable governors, John Kitzhaber of Oregon (suggested by my friend Sam) and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, former Governor and China ambassador Gary Locke, and some senators- most notably Bill Nelson from the crucial swing state of Florida.
IV. Region. Hillary may have been born in the midwest and been first lady of a Southern state, but she last held office in New York, and in the public eye, she is still associated with the northeast. You can categorically rule out a New York running mate, and severely cast doubt upon other northeasterners. This presents the biggest problem to Martin O’Malley, the liberal and generally successful governor of Maryland. Maybe when Nixon picked Agnew in 1968, Maryland could be construed as a border-South state, but no longer.
and finally, V. No “Hail Marys.” Hillary will likely start out the prohibitive front-runner, and she will run a cautious campaign (though hopefully not as ruinously cautious as her 2008 bid.) But this means that she will likely pick a “known quantity”, someone who has run for office at least once, so generals, businessmen, and OPFs (old public functionaries) are probably out. You are going to want to run with someone who has withstood campaign scrutiny.
So, I am left to conclude that Hillary Clinton’s running mate will probably fit this profile: a male Democrat, in his 50s or early 60s on election day, from the Midwest, Southwest, or a relevant swing state, has no well-known vices or scandals, and has most likely served as a senator or governor in some capacity. With this in mind, I would construe Hillary’s running mates to be, in rough order of likelihood:
1. Mark Warner: (Profile: Governor of Virginia from 2002-06, Senator from Virginia, 2009-present) At this early stage, Warner should be considered a solid front-runner. He remains very popular in Virginia, a state that is a key part of any path to 270 electoral votes. If you want to win over independent voters, Warner isn’t a bad choice. He was CEO of a cellular company, and wins points for thriving on two Republican talking points: “creating jobs” and “balancing budgets.” Warner has made astonishingly few enemies, shows restraint and poise at every turn, and is both the safest and most qualified choice on this list.
2. Evan Bayh: (Profile: Governor of Indiana, 1989-1997, Senator from Indiana, 1999-2011). Bill Clinton once said, “I hope and expect that some day, I will be voting for Evan Bayh for president.” That may not happen, but he could be voting for him as his wife’s running mate. According to all sources, Bayh was the silver medalist in Obama’s vice-president search, ultimately losing to Joe Biden. Under ordinary circumstances, Indiana is barely a swing state; Obama won by a tiny margin in 2008 but lost the Hoosier State by a country mile in 2012. Evan Bayh, a popular moderate, could swing Indiana back into the blue column in a close election. Bayh comes, though, with a few minuses that Warner avoids. He is notoriously uncharismatic, retired from the Senate in disgust in 2010, worked as a FOX News contributor, his wife is a lobbyist, and comes from a political family in a race with one scion too many (although heaven knows I love his dad, ERA-author Birch Bayh.) Still, it is hard to beat a governor-senator with no real ethical blots on his record.
3. Julian Castro: (Profile: Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, 2009-present.) After a guy named Barack Hussein Obama II gets elected president, all concerns about a politicians’ name can be safely considered alarmist. The riskiest pick of the top 10, but it is also a high-reward choice. Castro, only 39, delivered a remarkable keynote speech in 2012 about what it means to be American. In contrast to the current modus operandi in much of Texas, Castro has emphasized investment in the future: he has encouraged a pre-K program in San Antonio, and is marketing it as a “brainpower city,” a place of ideas, not just low taxes and shabby working conditions. The question, though, is one of suitability: we’ve never put a guy whose highest elected office was mayor on a major ticket. (Although, in earlier times, McGovern considered Boston mayor Kevin White and Walter Mondale considered then-San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein.) The correct retort, of course, is that as mayor of San Antonio, one of America’s ten biggest cities, Castro represents more people than Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, or Paul Ryan did in their offices. Stick that in your Alamo and smoke it. If he’s picked, look for Republicans to attack his mother for being a part of (gasp!) Latino activist group La Raza. I don’t think Castro will turn Texas blue in 2016 unless Republicans pick an absolute train wreck, but if the party is interested in purpling the state, more national exposure for someone like Castro is the first step.
4. Brian Schweitzer: (Profile: Governor of Montana, 2005-2013). Schweitzer just finished a remarkable turn as governor of Montana for eight years, not only surviving, but thriving in territory unfriendly to Democrats. His populist demeanor made him one of the best speakers at the last two Democratic conventions. Few have successfully deflected Obamacare criticism into legitimate arguments about how expensive treatments are in a private health care market. Seriously- go read this interview over at Slate. Yet, unlike many governors, he has a healthy degree of experience abroad, having worked on multiple continents as an irrigation developer. His pro-gun background and visceral dislike of Washington D.C. may attract a different and unexpected set of potential voters. On the “con” side, many wonder why he didn’t run for the 2014 open U.S. Senate seat, which he could have easily won. I suspect he will run in the 2016 presidential nomination against Hillary, get his name out there, challenge her from both a conservative and populist perspective, and use this exposure as leverage onto the ticket.
5. Martin Heinrich: (Profile: Congressman from New Mexico, 2009-2013, Senator from New Mexico, 2013-present.) Heinrich is another relatively young guy, only 42 years old, and by 2016, he will have four years in the Senate and a few terms in the House under his belt. Heinrich is a relative moderate, especially on gun issues, and while New Mexico can now be considered more of a blue state than a swing state, picking him serves as insurance in case the Republican nominee picks New Mexico governor Susanna Martinez. If he gets passed over, he has nothing to worry about; it is entirely possible he will still be in the Senate 25 years from now.
6. Tim Kaine: (Profile: Governor of Virginia, 2006-2010, Senator from Virginia, 2013-present.) If Mark Warner gets hit by a truck or something, there’s always Tim Kaine. Kaine is truly a poor man’s Warner- a former governor and senator of Virginia who lacks Warner’s crossover appeal to independents and business background. He won his elections by a small margin, while Warner won his in landslides. Still, there’s something there; if Bayh was Obama’s second choice for running-mate, Kaine is widely rumored to have been his third choice.
7. Michael Bennet: (Profile: Senator from Colorado, 2009-present) I thought about putting Ken Salazar in this spot, but ultimately, his record raises too many questions, and nobody wants to be the head of the Department of the Interior during the Deepwater Horizon mess. Instead, why not the guy who replaced Salazar in the Senate? Bennet, who will be only 52 in 2016, checks a lot of boxes. He is from a swing state where Hillary is polling a little worse than expected, and he was one of the few vulnerable Democrats to survive in 2010. His background is in education (he was once Superintendent of Denver-area schools), an area where Republicans are vulnerable, and can be helpful in wooing the vote of the demographic that Bill Clinton called “Soccer moms.”
8. John Lynch: (Profile: Governor of New Hampshire, 2005-2013). Lynch breaks two rules I just set forth: he is from the northeast and he will be 65 on Election Day. But hear me out: New Hampshire is, by its own admission, a little bit different from the rest of New England, a “Live Free or Die” state, which apparently means no helmet laws and welshing on bridge-building agreements with Vermont. John Lynch was perennially one of the nation’s most popular governors, and has a reputation for republican (small “r”) simplicity and appeal. His reputation for low taxes and transparency will appeal to many independent voters, and he also helps out in the only state in New England that cannot be guaranteed for Democrats in a close-ish election. As a businessman, he succeeded not only financially, but on grounds of justice as well: he made sure his employees were well-payed and had retirement plans. The only problem is his lack of a national reputation or profile: he has rarely done national talk shows or dealt with the national media, which might lead to Palinesque difficulties in acclimating to a presidential level of scrutiny.
9. Sherrod Brown: (Profile: Senator from Ohio, 2007-present.) No Republican presidential candidate in the history of the party has won without the state of Ohio in his column, and Brown, under the right conditions, could help take that state out of contention. Brown, elected twice from the state of Ohio, the mother of all swing states, the state that could have made President Gore or President Kerry, would help Clinton with old-style Democratic voters. By this, I mean that Brown is an economic populist, not a mountain state “green energy” guy or someone who can win over new demographics. But, not unlike Joe Biden, he can slow the Democrats’ hemorrhaging of the working-class white vote. Depending on how far to the center or left Clinton runs, Brown can be a reassuring sop to Democratic party advocates, and he will energize the base if “moderate Hillary” is what emerges in the campaign’s early stages. Still, his reputation as one of the Senate’s most liberal members may not do much beyond preaching to the choir.
10. Tim Roemer: (Profile: Congressman from Indiana, 1991-2003, Ambassador to India, 2009-2011). As events of the last few days in Ukraine have demonstrated, you can’t have too much foreign policy and national security chops on the ticket. Roemer was instrumental in the creation of the Homeland Security Department and co-chaired the 9/11 Commission. Aside from that, he spearheaded the creation of Head Start and Americorps, and the hundreds of thousands of Americans who did tenures in these programs won’t forget it. However, he was a staunch critic of NAFTA, a signature achievement of Bill Clinton’s presidency, which could cause problems with Hillary. But perhaps the biggest liability with Roemer is his social conservatism, and opposition to abortion. If the Democrats want to demonstrate they are a “large tent” party, though, a Roemer selection would telegraph that sentiment clearly.
So, what do you think, gentle readers? Am I missing anyone?