Way back in March of 2014, I posted on who I thought nominee-presumptive Hillary Clinton’s best running mates might be. Here we are more than 18 months later, exactly one year away from the presidential election, and maybe 8 or 9 months away from Hillary having to make this decision for herself. As a recap, back then I suggested:
- Mark Warner (former senator from and governor of Virginia)
- Evan Bayh (former senator from and governor of Indiana)
- Julian Castro (mayor of San Antonio)
- Brian Schweitzer (former governor of Montana)
- Martin Heinrich (senator from New Mexico)
- Tim Kaine (former senator from and governor of Virginia)
- Michael Bennet (senator from Colorado)
- John Lynch (former governor of New Hampshire)
- Sherrod Brown (senator from Ohio)
- Tim Roemer (former congressman from Indiana)
What a difference 18 months can make in the world of politics. Some choices were weak ones to begin with (Roemer, Lynch). Some prospects have compromised their chances in some way (Schweitzer gave a truly bizarre interview where he implied that Eric Cantor was gay.) And some new figures have emerged on the scene.
Here are a few considerations that altered my thinking between now and then:
- The unexpected grassroots momentum of Bernie Sanders. I knew Hillary would face some competition for the nomination, but I was genuinely surprised at how robust Sanders’ campaign turned out to be. The hashtag-generating, email-circulating, borderline-trollish behavior of the “Berniebro” notwithstanding, Sanders has successfully pushed Clinton to the left, and demonstrated that democratic socialism was no longer a fringe belief system, but a viable perspective that deserves a seat at the table. In terms of the veepstakes, that means Clinton cannot pick a “Blue Dog” Democrat as her husband once did with Al Gore.
- The disastrous 2014 and 2015 elections. They wiped out the party nationally, particularly in places that might not vote for Democrats on a presidential level, but remained viable on a state or local level. West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas- dirt poor states which had high numbers of registered Democrats as recently as 2008- just keep getting redder and redder. This should focus Hillary’s meta-strategy on not just winning but creating a strong ticket nationally, one that can replenish the bench. Her party will, 10 years from now, need congressmen and state assemblymen, and state attorneys general in 2016 if it wishes to offer compelling candidates in the future.
- Sit down for this one, ’cause imma blow your mind. I think it is possible that Hillary might pick a female running mate. That’s right. If we pick apart her aforementioned problem about seeming too safe, too much of a known quantity, unable to really inspire people, the prospect of the first all-female ticket on a major party would shatter that preconception. Some people might think that America isn’t ready for that, or some nonsense. Since women gained the right to vote nationally, there have been…let’s see here…24 presidential elections, and with two major parties, that’s 48 presidential tickets. 46 of them have been all male. 2 of them had one woman in the less prestigious vice-presidential spot. There are now dozens of qualified female candidates, more than ever before in American history. Don’t give me any of this nonsense about America being “ready” for an all-female ticket.
- Secretary of State Clinton also has to navigate the directions her opponents have gone. The sideshow that the Republican nomination has become, where at one point the leading three candidates had never held elective office before, means that the Democrats have to not just generate excitement but run on professionalism and competence. Anecdotally, I remember an old co-worker of my dad’s who hated liberals, but just felt he had to vote for Obama in 2008 because of Sarah Palin’s manifest incompetence and birdbath-deep knowledge of the issues. That kind of “better the devil you know” thinking can actually help wrack up not only wins but majorities. Even if someone saner like Rubio or Bush is nominated, Clinton’s ticket has to accentuate the “do you really what to put these guys in charge?” mentality. So, there are no true “Hail Marys,” no generals, no career businessmen, and nobody who is a novice to the art of governing.
- If at all possible, insofar as Hillary is looking for senators, she will probably prefer those who serve in states with Democratic governors, and thus will be replaced- at least temporarily- with Democrats.
- Other than that, the basic calculus is in place: avoid oldsters and avoid north-easterners.
- Sherrod Brown: Brown has made a career for himself as a scrappy populist with disheveled hair, traits that should recommend himself to Bernie fans. Although Brown recently endorsed Hillary, picking him telegraphs to the Bernie Bro that their concerns have been heeded, and views such as theirs will have a voice in a Clinton pt. II administration. As a known opponent of monied interests and having a strong blue-collar background, he has the anti-establishment chops that Hillary may need to generate extra enthusiasm. Running for re-election in 2012, Brown ran significantly ahead of Obama in Ohio, which may very well recommend him as a avenue to win the mother of all swing states. The only real drawback is that John Kasich (who is himself a strong vice-presidential contender for the Republicans) would get to pick his successor.
- Michael Bennet: As disastrous news swept the Democratic party from nearly all corners on Election Night, 2014, John Hickenlooper’s narrow re-election as governor of Colorado made me think: “this is great for Michael Bennet.” Although Bennet is running for re-election in 2016, if he is somehow picked and somehow wins both the presidential race and his Senate race, a Democratic governor would choose his replacement. Anyway, Bennet is young, from an important swing state, and has a key trait that assisted the Clinton-Gore ’96 campaign: soccer moms. That is, Bennet’s stock in trade is in education, having once been the Denver Superintendent of Schools. Michael Bennet is a figure made to appeal to suburbanites who might favor Republicans on fiscal issues, but are appalled by the global warming denialism and conspiratorial mindset.
- Mark Warner: A Warner vice-presidency will stick a sock into the mouth of those who argue that Democrats are bad for business. The former cellular executive proves that left-leaning politics and financial success don’t contradict, and his experience as a governor and senator of a major swing state complete what looks like a great resume on paper. His story could provide a compelling counter-narrative if someone like Bush or Rubio picks someone like Carly Fiorina as a running mate. On the other hand, Warner dropped the ball a bit as the keynote speaker at the 2008 DNC, and ended up having a surprising glass jaw in his re-election in 2014. He was expected to win handily even in a terrible year for Democrats, and ended up prevailing by less than a percentage point. To be sure, 2014 had terrible turnout, but it has turned Warner into something less than the surefire winner he was a short time ago.
- Amy Klobuchar: She’s won two commanding victories in a state Republicans want to win badly. She consistently receives stellar approval ratings in an age of widespread dislike of government. And she now has a book out, The Senator Next Door, that has been very well received, and is viewed in some quarters as a clarion call for humbler, more responsive government officials. She’s made remarkably few enemies and is part of the refreshing culture of teamwork that thrives among women in the Senate. And senators from Minnesota have made some great vice presidents in the past, as Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale would agree. Ironically, if a man was the presidential candidate, Klobuchar would be an odds-on favorite to join the ticket, but she won’t get the nod if Clinton dismisses out of hand the idea of a female running mate.
- Gary Locke: Making his first appearance on my veepstakes list is Gary Locke, a man with a splendid resume who accentuates competence. He won’t take any swing states off the map for Hillary, but has proven himself capable many times over as governor of Washington, Secretary of Commerce, and most recently as Ambassador to China. His apparent dutifulness and even dullness show sparks of life, such as when he allowed Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to seek refuge at the American embassy in Beijing, and flying economy class on his flights. He would also make history as the first Asian-American on a major party ticket.
- Julian Castro: If you want a new face that can change the political calculus, this one is it. He was mayor of San Antonio, he gave the keynote address at the 2012 convention, and is currently getting some federal experience as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He has youth, he has charisma to burn, and now has both executive and federal experience. Moreover, he could be a long-term investment on making Texas and Arizona, with large numbers of Hispanic youths, purple states down the line, although this may not happen in the 2016 election. The only problem- and his reason for dropping since the last ranking- is my realization that the San Antonio mayoralty is somewhat symbolic, and involves relatively little day-to-day governing. In other words, Castro’s readiness to serve as president may come into question–but we’ll see how he does at HUD.
- Tammy Baldwin: Talk about a slam dunk for winning leftist enthusiasm. Baldwin, the junior senator from Wisconsin, is one of the more progressive members of the Senate, where she will have served for four years as of 2016, after several years in the House beforehand. She would also be the first LGBTQ person on a presidential ticket (well, openly anyway, depending on your conclusions about James Buchanan.) If you want to make cynical young people in cities care enough to vote, this would be a strong pick. And having an opponent of same-sex marriage- a near-certainty no matter who the Republicans pick- have to look Baldwin in the eye during the vice-presidential debate could make for some compelling television. Although Baldwin’s ascendency to the vice-presidency would mean the onerous Scott Walker appointing her replacement, perhaps Hillary will think the risks are worth the rewards, and that Baldwin’s seat won’t determine control of the Senate.
- Ron Kind: If we are looking at Wisconsin anyway, let’s turn to the House. Kind has consistently won in the blue-collarish, mostly rural 3rd district of Wisconsin covering LaCross and Eau Claire- the kind of wavering Democratic voters Hillary must be eager to shore up. His work as a football player and an ally of William Proxmire, the senator from Wisconsin who famously gave out Golden Fleece Awards for excessive government spending, could make him an appealing candidate. And he still has more experience in Congress than fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan had in 2012.
- Evan Bayh: All right, fine. Bayh breaks most of the rules I set out, including no dorky-looking Blue Dogs and the obvious rule against two dynasties on one ticket. But it is hard to find fault with his talent for winning landslide elections in a red state; even Bill Clinton said that one day he looked forward to voting for Bayh on a presidential ticket. And the poor guy has had his heart broken by Gore, Kerry, AND Obama, according to some accounts the second-or-third choice each time. He lacks charisma, but if you are Hillary, a flair for avoiding controversy and unwanted attention is probably more desirable. Nevertheless, this will not excite the grassroots; Bayh went directly to the Fox News Analyst circuit after retiring from the Senate in 2010, and his wife is a corporate lobbyist. Still, for heartland wholesomeness, Bayh is hard to beat, and since he isn’t a senator anymore, you don’t have to risk forfeiting a seat. (His father, Birch Bayh, is also one of my heroes, and is the only surviving senator who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)
- Jack Reed: Another guy who violates my rules: he is relatively old (almost 70) and is from New England. What makes Reed different is his military service: the man was a West Point cadet, and has reportedly been asked to serve as Secretary of Defense for the last two vacancies and may have been on Obama’s shortlist for the vice-presidency at one point. Reed is a no-nonsense, constituency-oriented man who would make mincemeat out of a careless Republican opponent in the vice-presidential debate.
And Tim Kaine, Martin Heinrich, and Jeff Merkley just narrowly miss out. What do you think? Am I off my rocker, or have I forgotten someone important? Let me know in the comments below- and I hope to do another one of these for the Republican nominee— once we have a better idea who that nominee is!