What Do The Candidates Need From Their Vice Presidential Pick?

Discussion in 'Congress' started by The BKP, Jul 15, 2008.

  1. The BKP
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    The BKP Grand Inquistor

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    Having sewn up their respective party nominations, Barack Obama and John McCain have engaged each other in earnest.

    While it appears that Obama has the initial advantage in terms of momentum and setting the agenda, the upcoming vice presidential picks could prove to be a watershed moment and turning point in the campaign. That being said, what is it each candidate needs from their pick?

    While the issue of experience failed to significantly impact the Democratic presidential primaries, it is one that Obama must address in the fall campaign. Questioning the gravitas, depth and breadth of experience that one who has enjoyed such a meteoric rise to prominence as Obama has can have, Republicans will assail him as unprepared to handle an increasingly complex and dangerous world. Though he may be a man of the world, they will argue, alluding to his African heritage and his time living abroad as a child, he is hardly a worldly man. The ability to give a rousing speech doesn’t equate the ability to coolly confront tin-horn tyrants and would-be adversaries.

    In order to polish his image as a leader and present the impression of gravitas, Obama has announced a world tour in the coming weeks. The problem, however, is it plays into the hands of the Republicans that portray him as a highly stylish and sharply tailored, but ultimately empty suit. To adequately address this, the Democratic ticket requires substance to counterbalance Obama’s inherent style.

    While Liberals and Democrats will howl at the suggestion, objectively Obama faces the same dilemma George W. Bush was confronted with in the summer of 2000. Having risen meteorically through the Republican Party to seize its presidential nomination from more seasoned and experienced hands, he then needed to ground the ticket in the very same Brahman class he had defeated.

    Running as the candidate of change, Obama likewise dispatched a cadre of candidates with far longer political resumes than his own. Though that was an asset in the primaries, it may well be a liability in the general election. Bear in mind that voters are far less forgiving and willing to overlook a candidate’s weaknesses when voting for president than they are when voting for a party nominee. Accordingly, like Bush before him, he must turn to his party’s elder statesmen to provide him the gravitas and depth he lacks.

    Therefore, Obama’s running mate must be an individual of substance and experience on the key issues of national security, military affairs and foreign policy. Though the country has turned its gaze back to the heartland, to leave his flank exposed on such critical issues will invite Republican attacks that may ultimately gain traction and inflict serious electoral damage.

    Furthermore, if Obama hopes to pick off traditionally Republican states in the south that are pro-military and home to major military installations, he must have someone that can speak to those voters and personnel without being condescending or insincere. Killing two birds with one stone, the optimal choice would be a senator or governor of one of these key states that can help Obama seriously contest its red status while giving him an avenue through which to address these critical voters. A tall order no doubt, but one that may be vital to Obama’s electoral success.

    Though Obama’s running mate must meet some significant criteria, he does enjoy an advantage over McCain in that the Democratic bench is much deeper in terms of available talent than the Republican’s.

    In contrast, the Republican ticket is substantively heavy and stylistically challenged. Emphasizing his years of military and legislative experience, McCain lacks in style and image what he offers in substance.

    Where Obama is oratorically cool and fashionably crisp, McCain is uncomfortable with prepared remarks with minimal regard for his wardrobe. Though a former naval aviator, he displays none of the spit and polish or force of presence of a senior officer. With the combination of past health issues, a legendary temper and an often curmudgeonly demeanor dogging him, the key to balancing his image lies in a running mate that is energetic, engaging and stylistically appealing.

    At the heart of the issues confronting McCain is his age. His health, temperament and demeanor are all tied in the public’s mind to it. This also raises concerns about the qualifications and abilities of his running mate, should his health result in their ascension to the presidency.

    Perception is reality in politics. And the perception is McCain is a heavily graying, if not fading warhorse. One of his keys to victory is to determine how to overcome that perception and convince voters not to put him out to pasture. Moreover, the objective is to find who can help him overcome this monumental challenge.

    On issues of policy, McCain is the antithesis of Obama; while Obama is weak on national security and foreign policy, McCain is strong. While Obama appears to master domestic issues, McCain is at best uneasy and inarticulate. His comment that he doesn’t understand economic issues well will most certainly come back to haunt him in the campaign. Accordingly, he needs someone with strong credentials in domestic and economic issues in order to counterbalance his perceived and awkwardly admitted weaknesses.

    Filling this bill will be a considerable challenge for McCain, but one which is ultimately achievable. The Republicans have a number of up and coming governors that would balance him well in terms of age, style and policy focus. The problem, however, lies in their relative experience and corresponding gravitas. Being chief executive of a state, though significant, does not automatically translate into being chief executive of the entire United States.

    Clearly both candidates have significant requirements their running mates must meet. The question in the end, though, is whether or not their selections ultimately play any substantive role in terms of the electorate’s decision.

    Have you ever heard someone say, “I was going to vote for X until Y put Z on the ticket!”? Or perhaps, “You know, I’d love to vote for A, but I just can’t stand B.”

    Though running mates are often selected in order to shore up the ideological base or a wing of a political party, there are also geopolitical factors at play. Can a running mate play the role of favorite son in a key state and swing it into the win column? In the case of the Kerry-Edwards ticket of 2004, Edwards’ home state of North Carolina went for Bush and Cheney; so much for the power of favorite sons.
     

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