Wanted: A photogenic man or woman (must not scare children and small animals), from a swing state, preferably Ohio. He or she should have a background in politics and public service, but must not be too controversial or outspoken. PR-friendly family and cute dog a plus.
On the surface, the job of the vice president is, in the words of one pundit, about as exciting as warm spit. The vice president’s only real work is to sit around and wait for the president to die. However, for presidential hopefuls, a well-picked vice-presidential candidate can be the key to a four-year lease in the White House.
The ideal vice-presidential candidate rounds out the ticket, filling in for and balancing out the deficiencies of the presidential candidate. For example, a Northern Yankee should pick a Southern or Western running mate to remain competitive in those parts of the country. A person with a strong background in foreign policy should pick someone strong on domestic policy.
However, this pairing of opposites should be complementary. A vice-presidential candidate who highlights the weaknesses of the main candidate is not a good idea. John Kerry’s face looked even more Botoxed and his voice even more monotonous next to the wide, elastic grin and honeyed drawl of his running mate, Sen. John Edwards. In other words, the best vice-presidential candidate should attract more, not fewer, votes to the ticket.
These are only some of the factors that John McCain and Barack Obama must consider as the general election gets under way. (Sorry, Clintonistas, but it’s over.)
For McCain, his choice needs to do several things. First, bring money smarts to the table. McCain has openly admitted that he doesn’t know anything about economics. With gas prices at $4 per gallon and a recession on the horizon, McCain can’t win on his foreign policy credentials alone. Second, his pick needs to bring solid conservative credentials to enthuse the alienated Republican base. Some in the blogosphere suggest former rival Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, a Baptist minister who also happens to be Arkansas’s former governor, is hugely popular with the base and might be a good choice.
However, the inclusion of a man who denies evolution, defends the Confederate flag and espouses a controversial brand of economic populism may turn off not only moderate Republicans and independents, but also economic conservatives. Normally, these groups might be more tolerant of the views of the largely powerless vice-presidential nominee. However, in the aftermath of Dick Cheney’s reign and considering McCain’s advanced age (please don’t send your 95-year-old mother to soap my keyboard), many voters may be unwilling to risk President Huckabee. And there is just something so wrong about a ticket with two old white men in a year like this.
Obama faces a different set of challenges. Unlike McCain, Obama can’t even pick a vice-presidential candidate quite yet. This is because, despite mathematical and financial reality, his opponent Hillary Clinton simply refuses to concede defeat. For Obama to pick a running mate before the primary is officially over would be arrogant. It would also ruin whatever chances he has of reuniting the divided Democratic Party in time for November.
That said, an Obama ticket would have to carefully counterbalance his perceived weaknesses. Obama’s running mate needs to have a strong built-in following among those “hard-working white working class” Americans that Clinton keeps harping about. His selection needs to offset Obama’s reputation, partly of his own making, of being an arugula-nibbling elitist. It wouldn’t hurt if he were also white. Residual racism has contributed to Obama’s inability to win in several key battleground states. Teaming up with former Senator Edwards might help. Edwards has an enthusiastic following among that same group. He also represents an anti-establishment viewpoint that meshes with Obama’s new brand of politics. However, Edwards, a one-term senator himself, may not help with Obama’s other challenge.
That challenge is his relative youth and inexperience. An older, more experienced running mate would diffuse that issue, such as former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Richardson would bring an astoundingly diverse and deep portfolio to the campaign. This is, after all, a man who served as a congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy. There would even be the added bonus of his popularity with the Latino population.
Why, you might ask, have I skipped the so-called “dream ticket,” Obama-Clinton 2008? I have skipped it because an Obama-Clinton team would be no dream ticket. Separately, they are both superb candidates. Together, they would be a disaster. Clinton and Obama reflect two fundamentally different philosophies about politics. They simply don’t complement one another. And when it comes down to it, picking a running mate is about finding a complement.
Mengfei Chen is a third-year international studies major. She can be reached at email@example.com.