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Aug 25 2004

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The First Presidential Decision

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What originally looked like a revolution (with Dean), then a fight (with Edwards) was ultimately won in a walk. Without serious or damaging intra-party fighting, and on a time frame envisioned by the erudite Terry McAuliffe in his front loaded primary design, establishmentarian John Kerry has locked the Democratic nomination in a six-week sprint, pleasing the Party apparatus if not (necessarily) the Party faithful.

With four months to go before the Democratic convention, we are now left to endure the Senator’s potty-mouthed locutions concerning his Secret Service detail and to wonder, in a manner worthy of a Cheney-esque GAO enquiry, exactly which foreign leaders are sharing their aspirations for American electoral outcomes this autumn with Monsieur Kerry. But of course, Duffy digresses…

While the next months will be filled with analysis of Kerry’s record, plans and policies should he become president, in fact, Kerry’s first “presidential” decision is just about 100 days away; his choice for a vice presidential running mate. For a candidate most at home on both sides of an issue, Kerry’s choice will offer a definitive and revealing portrait of his thinking, political savvy and judgment.

Context:  Where the Votes Are

Conventional wisdom has been a regular casualty this selection season, but the notion of a closely divided nation – and an expected closely divided election – has become an article of faith during this “silly season”. Despite other potential outcomes (which Duffy will expand on in future communications), both parties are scrambling to identify those voters not already closely aligned with one side or the other, focusing on only a handful of states that will seemingly decide the election. To wit…

Looking to the winning percentages from 2000 and other historical election data, Duffy has identified 13 “battleground” states that will be key to victory in `04. From west to east, they are: Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Not factoring in Nader votes, all but West Virginia and Michigan were won by less than 5 points.

From a strategic geographic perspective then, with the exception of Oregon and Florida (which merit tailored campaign efforts), the targets of opportunity are grouped in two distinctive areas. The first, and larger catch, is the northeastern Mississippi valley and Great Lakes region (the greater Midwest) with its agrarian and old-line manufacturing and mining industries, and working class base. To a lesser extent, the booming Southwest makes up the second area, the recent recipient of increased migration, ethnic as well as professional. Command within these two groupings will likely determine the election.

Context:  The Issue

We will no doubt spend the greater part of the next eight months discussing the finer points of budgeting, taxes, health care, the environment and trade, as well as foreign and national security policy. This will be assessed through the filter of both presidential nominees; their character, outlook and experience.

But Duffy has believed from the beginning that 2004 was going to be a big election about a big idea, an idea to which all others would be subordinate, and on which the election would be won.  This year, that idea or unifying theme is securityjob security at home and homeland security from terror abroad. With this as context, Kerry’s choice becomes more apparent; who can best help him define the big issue of security in these key swing states/ areas?

The Talent Pool

If history was the only guide, Kerry would pick a senator. During the last 52 years the Democrats have been remarkably consistent in their selection pool for running mates. With the exception of those instances where the same Democratic ticket was running for re-election (’80 and ‘96), Democrats have overwhelmingly favored senators as the vice presidential pick. That includes: Truman ’48, Stevenson in ’52 & ’56, Kennedy in ’60, Johnson in ’64, Humphrey in ’68, McGovern’s first try in ’72 (though he ultimately went with a party activist, Sargent Shriver), Carter in ’76, Dukakis in ’88 and Gore in ’00.  Only in 1984 did Walter Mondale break the mold in his selection of House member Geraldine Ferraro as a running mate.

For those trivia buffs on the other side, Republican choices have been quite distinctive from those of the Democrats. Since 1948, with the exception of those instances where the same Republican ticket was running for re-election (’56, ’72, ’84 and ’92), the GOP picked a governor twice (Dewey ’48 and Nixon ’68) and a senator four times (Eisenhower ’52, Nixon ’60, Ford, ’76 and Bush ’88).

However, equally prevalent for the GOP has been the vice presidential nominee with what Duffy will call “fusion experience”, a background in either the executive and legislative branches, or other, senior government jobs. The Republicans have nominated four individuals with this type of resume (Goldwater’s pick of Miller in ’64, Reagan’s pick of Bush in ’80, Dole’s pick of Kemp in ’96 and Bush 43’s pick of Cheney in ’00).

The Short List

The Campaign & Elections web site (www.campaignline.com) lists 24 possible running mates for Senator Kerry, and, helpfully, provides odds. Additionally, the Big Feet in the media have not been shy in proposing a slew of possible number two’s, from the intriguing (former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin), to the hopeful (Senator John McCain), to the unserious (news commentator Tom Brokaw) and to the outlandish (former President Bill Clinton).

Then there are the candidates yearned for by you partisans out there. Deaniacs, well we know that deep down none of you can be made happy by anyone less than Dean himself, a prospect slightly more likely than any potential Dean-inspired changes to the Party platform. And you Clark people, Duffy knows that his lack of mention is sure to rankle, but really, do Democrats want a president-in-waiting whose fidelity to the Party has the shelf life of a Janet Jackson costume malfunction?

However, returning to the central theme of security and looking at the battlefield states, the real list of possible vice presidential candidates whittles itself down fairly quickly. Duffy has five, laid out here in ascending order for your consideration.

Senator John Edwards: the sentimental favorite.  He ran a good, positive campaign amid all the Dean fuming and growls, outlasting the barnburners from Vermont in the snowy fields of Iowa and showed well across several states, even winning in his native South. He’s great on the stump, has boundless energy and boyish good looks, and, in a sign of his effectiveness, toward the end of his run, had audiences believing he had worked against NAFTA, though he entered the Senate six years after the legislation had been passed.

Listening to boosters, Gentleman John could be Kerry’s secret weapon in the South. The candidate drips culturally acceptable charm that would tie down Republican resources in their own backyard, starving battleground states for dollars and bodies and maybe even winning a state or two. Boosters point out that no Democrat in the 20th century has won the presidency without at least five southern states in the Democratic column (though Duffy agrees with an earlier Kerry slip that the Democrats don’t need the South to win).

But a closer look shows that Edwards comes with baggage. First, despite protestations to the contrary, it is unclear whom Edwards will bring to the dance from the South. As of this writing, it is unclear if Edwards could even deliver his native North Carolina. The pickin’s in Dixie get slim from there. In the battleground states, Edwards has honed his message, but it is equally unclear whether a southerner is the right messenger for economic nationalism in the Midwest, especially as Edwards is so inconveniently new to it.

From a national security perspective, Edwards is a net negative. One term as governor of Texas may have been sufficient experience for the presidency in 2000, but one term in the Senate is not enough experience post September 11th.  Edwards, through no fault of his own, is further gravitas-challenged by his own youthful looks. The eerie Jimmy Carter-like smile does not create assuring nostalgia. While Edwards has a potentially big future in the Party, if Kerry reads the tea leaves right, this is not going to be Edwards’ year.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton: you don’t think that Duffy could go through this exercise and not offer up a Clinton, did you? In all seriousness though, the benefits of a Hillary candidacy are obvious. Her selection would electrify the Democratic convention and energize the Party like no other nominee. The Democratic primaries showcased a mostly liberal and angry base of voters and in an election where turning out the base is everything, Hillary would be a fiery tonic. Additionally, her candidacy would open up fundraising riches beyond the imagination of the Incas.

Ideologically, Hillary and Kerry are soul mates. She voted against Ashcroft, the Bush tax cuts, fast track authority and Artic oil drilling. But like Kerry, she voted in favor of the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and No Child Left Behind, and has not stopped criticizing these laws since. They are simpatico. Moreover, as a steady and disciplined campaigner and a very savvy politician with years of experience in bare knuckles brawling and crisis management, Hillary would bring heft and charisma to a candidacy that is increasingly plagued by humdrum.

And it’s the right move for Hillary. Much has been written about her presidential aspirations in 2008. A vice presidential nod in `04 preserves those options. If Kerry fails this year, Hillary is the odds on favorite for `08. If Kerry wins, Hillary has a clear path, just four years later than planned, to run for the top prize at the tender age of 65. In you think that is too old, consider that Ronald Reagan was three weeks shy of his 70th birthday when he was inaugurated for his first term.

But like so much about the Clintons, what is good about Hillary is also what is bad about her. A Hillary selection, a veritable boon for Blue state voters, would create the most ideologically liberal ticket since Roosevelt-Wallace in 1940. In today’s day and age, it would be a calculated risk how such a ticket might play in the critical Midwest. Needless to say, while the effect on liberal activists would be electric, Hillary’s selection would mobilize the Right Wing Conspiracy in a way not seen since the days of Monica and the Oval Office Happy Hour.

Additionally, Hillary’s fame and admiration are inextricably linked to her notoriety (no forgetting the other Clinton here) making one wonder if the nation is sufficiently recovered to deal again with the Clinton legacy and ongoing neurosis. And it goes without saying that Hillary would likely upstage the actual nominee, a prospect that Kerry cannot relish. Like Edwards, she has a bright future in the Party, but `04 may not be the right fit.

Senator Evan Bayh: if you were looking for a vice president from central casting, Bayh would likely be your guy. Only 49 years old and Bayh has already served two terms as governor of Indiana and is just concluding his first term in the Senate. Unlike Kerry, eleven years his senior, Bayh has been an executive and has a credible record of accomplishment. As the youngest governor in the nation at the time of his election, Bayh provided more dollars for schools every year of his term, improved the environment, created over 375,000 new jobs and generated the largest budget surplus in Indiana history, all without raising taxes.

The advantages of a Bayh candidacy are clear. Looking at the map, Bayh could conceivably put Republican Indiana in play. His Midwest roots and record in supporting education and job creation would make him a compelling surrogate in job-loss stricken states that are the most competitive this November. He has executive experience, and his seats on the Intelligence and Armed Services committees provide a platform for both understanding and influencing national security issues.

But a closer look at Bayh creates political problems for Kerry, if not for the rest of us. Bayh is a card-carrying member of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), that Clinton artifice so reviled by the Deaniacs and other members of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, and Bayh has taken positions that could give the liberal, activist base heartburn.

While he voted against the Bush tax cuts and was an early and vocal critic of the Ashcroft nomination, Bayh has been a hawk on the War on Terror, and actually pushed for a White House version of the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq which did not require the president to consult with the world community before utilizing the military option. Moreover, Bayh was amongst the first Democrats to call for pre-emptive action against Iraq in order to prevent Saddam from developing weapons of mass destruction, supporting, in fact, the much-reviled Bush Doctrine. Even the master nuancer in Boston would have problems squaring this circle.

In sum, Bayh offers the credentials but not the package that Kerry needs. Additionally, Bayh is up for re-election this year and it is unclear whether the cautious Hoosier would risk his rising star on a potential Kerry sinking ship. With Hillary and Edwards, Bayh joins the “comers” of the Party where `04 may simply not be his year.

Governor Bill Richardson: this is where the bidding gets interesting. If you crossed Clintonian ambition with ethnic charisma you’d get Bill Richardson. For Kerry, he would be a fusion candidate; someone with a diverse yet substantial portfolio of high profile jobs in and out of government, and significantly, with both executive experience and national security credentials.

For fifteen years, Richardson represented the third district of New Mexico in the House of Representatives. During his tenure, he sponsored and passed a bill to retain and improve heath care for rural New Mexicans and increase the number of nurses in the state. He supported environmental initiatives that protected the Rio Grande River and San Juan Basin, and worked to bring jobs to the state, convincing, so the story goes, a Missouri milk producer to open a dairy factory in eastern New Mexico. But his focus on foreign policy is what marked Richardson early on. As a congressman, Richardson also served as a special envoy on sensitive international missions. He successfully won the release of hostages and prisoners in North Korea, Iraq and Cuba.

In 1997, Richardson was plucked to become UN Ambassador and was nominated and confirmed in 1998 to become Secretary of the Department of Energy, during the very public security lapses at nuclear weapons labs. Retiring to teach at the Kennedy School at Harvard in 2001 (this alone should get him an audition with the Kerry people), Richardson ran for and won the governorship of New Mexico by a 17-point margin in 2002 on an evening that was otherwise quite a disappointment for Democrats nationwide. The election made Richardson the nation’s only Hispanic governor.

Richardson’s potential benefits to Kerry are real. First, he has solid legislative experience. Second, he has legitimate national security/foreign policy credentials, both as a congressman and as UN Ambassador. Moreover, unlike, say Maxine Waters, that experience has focused on real foreign policy challenges facing the country today. It is no mean feat that Richardson was nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize. And to round out the impressive resume, Richardson has real executive management skills as both a cabinet head and state chief executive.

Richardson is also a good fit ideologically with Kerry. He strongly favors abortion rights and additional federal funding for health care, and opposes school prayer and school vouchers. No wilting violet, Richardson favors the death penalty, “three times you’re out” criminal sentencing and, surprisingly, a balanced budget amendment and tax reform. As governor, his focus has been on access to quality heath care, school reform and efforts to make New Mexico a leader in renewable energy and clean energy technologies. Also, going into a toxic general election campaign, it does not hurt to have a running mate who has been absent from Washington politics since 2001.

Of course, there is no precedent for choosing a running mate where ethnic origin is part of the calculus, and no sure way to know the effect. On a religious basis, the Lieberman nomination probably had the effect of uniting Jewish voters – and throwing Florida into chaos – but this was a group already solidly behind the Democratic ticket. In contrast, the Ferraro gender-based selection in 1984 did nothing to prevent women from overwhelmingly supporting President Reagan.

That said, as the first Hispanic on a major party ticket, a Richardson nomination could have the potential to seriously reorder the Electoral College assumptions of both sides. While his effect on the Midwest might be less pronounced than say, with Bayh, the effect in the Southwest could be decisive.

Beyond his native New Mexico (42% Hispanic), which Gore won by only 366 votes, Richardson could be a factor in Arizona (25% Hispanic), Nevada (19% Hispanic), Colorado (17% Hispanic) and Florida (19% Hispanic). Gore carried only one of these states, and combined they total 56 electoral votes. Under this scenario, President Bush would need to win Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania just to stay competitive, an uphill climb in states still lagging in job creation. In a rerun of 2000, this could be an interesting scenario for the Democrats.

In Richardson, Kerry would get a progressive and experienced running mate, broadly acceptable to both liberals and moderates, and importantly, seeming capable of taking on Dick Cheney in a debate and, potentially, filling his shoes in office.

Richardson said on Face the Nation that he was more interested in running New Mexico than in being vice president. Just make him an offer, however, and watch how quickly he again becomes interested in federal service. Richardson would make an intriguing choice, if not Duffy’s first choice. It has yet to be seen whether Kerry has the imagination and audacity to make it happen.

And the winner is….

Representative Richard Gephardt: I can already hear the collective groans. No doubt some of you are disappointed, you Deaniacs in particular, who joined the Gephardt folks in a mutually assisted suicide pact in Iowa.

I have heard all the criticisms already. Gephardt is a retread, guardian of old politics and backward looking.  He ran a disappointing presidential campaign this year (he couldn’t even win the union vote in Iowa) that was telegraphed by his less embarrassing loss to another Boston native in his last stab at national office in 1988. Clearly, the man has national ambition but no national ability, right?

If that wasn’t enough, didn’t Gephardt vote in favor of the Reagan tax cuts? And wasn’t it Gephardt who was at the helm when the Democrats lost the House to the Right Wing Conspiracy in 1994?  And despite four tries, lots of money and the political winds at his back, was unable to win it back?

And, perhaps the final nail in the coffin, with a critical midterm election pending in `02, wasn’t it Gephardt who helped the White House with the Iraq war resolution, undercutting Senate efforts to force more restraint on the Administration and dividing his anti-war caucus?

In sum, and not to put too fine a point on it, isn’t this man a loser?

Well, to pull a Kerry, yes and no. Actually, Gephardt is worthy of a second look. There’s more to the man than meets the eye, qualities that would serve Kerry and the Democrats well come November.

Principled: son of a milkman (and Teamster), Gephardt’s public service has been marked by votes of principle. A life long supporter of organized labor and the rights of working class voters with regard to family leave, health care and work place safety in the greater arena of international trade, Gephardt has not simply talked, but he has acted.

Gephardt was one of the principle authors of the Omnibus Trade & Competitiveness Act of 1988 that attempted, at Japan’s international zenith, to bring fairness to free trade. Provisions of that bill are still part of the nomenclature of US trade policy to this day.

Gephardt has also been a consistent and vocal opponent of free trade agreements, and with Michigan’s Dave Bonior, worked against passage of NAFTA in 1993 and fast track authority since. Principle requires risk and Gephardt has made those tough calls. On NAFTA and fast track authority and welfare reform, Gephardt found himself on the opposite side of a Democraticadministration, standing up for what he believed in.

Leadership: Gephardt has 27 years in public service. Little commented on, he served as Democratic leader for 13 ½ of those years, in both the majority and minority; the second longest run since John McCormack of Massachusetts had the job for nearly two decades up to 1962. I leave it to others to look at the political trajectories of Gephardt and Kerry and discern why, coming to Washington only seven years apart, Gephardt rose so much faster into consequential leadership positions than Kerry did.

Gephardt has hands-on experience in coalition building on both domestic and international issues. As Leader, he was successful in unifying Democrats on key votes, despite deep philosophical differences between moderates and liberals, while Democrats were in the majority and minority, and during Republican and Democratic administrations.

History placed Gephardt in leadership during a decade of epochal events that required consequential decisions that he could not duck. He was on duty during the collapse of communism and the rise of a new world order where China and terrorism emerged as unfamiliar and foreboding challenges. He presided over votes on trade, welfare, budgets and health care, as well as “peace dividends”, international treaties and war.

He saw three Speakers succumb to the temptations of office or fury of voters, and watched a fourth leave in shame before assuming the chair. In the best traditions of the House, he turned over the gavel to Newt Gingrich without malice or rancor. When the chips were down and loyalty was at a premium, he led the charge for his morally challenged president against impeachment.

In sum, Gephardt has been a consequential part of the fabric that has shaped American domestic and international actions for the last generation in a way that the feckless John Kerry could never emulate. He has stood up in the public arena and has been counted. While Bush campaign workers will no doubt find reams of useful fodder for ads and rebuttals in Gephardt’s record, you do not have to agree with Gephardt’s votes or philosophy to see that his legacy is authentic.

Decisive Campaign Advantage: on an ideological level, Gephardt and Kerry are reading from the same sheet. If anything, this campaign has brought Kerry closer to Gephardt’s views than the other way around.

The intersection of battleground states, job loss and Gephardt’s roots cannot be under estimated by the Kerry campaign. While the overall national economy is growing at a healthy rate, the legacy of job losses in the battleground states of the Midwest makes Gephardt an ideal messenger of economic protectionism on a ticket with Kerry. Gephardt’s selection could well place highly competitive (and Gephardt home state) Missouri in the Democratic column, and will play very well in Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and all-important Ohio. With these electoral votes, Democrats can win the election without a single Southern state.

There is one, final, and most compelling reason why Duffy believes Gephardt will be the choice. Gephardt was the only Democratic candidate for president in `04 that had personal experience with September 11th. On that day, Gephardt, as Minority Leader, was relocated from the Capitol by helicopter under a forgotten Cold War era “Continuity of Government” plan, created to protect leadership assets in the event of a nuclear strike on the United States. Up to that point, it had never been used.

It was the first time since President James Madison ingloriously galloped over the Chain Bridge into Virginia (with the British in hot pursuit) that the nation’s leadership was evacuated from Washington. It was a tangible sign of the deadly seriousness of the day and represented a certainty that something fundamental had changed the nation. Gephardt was a participant and not a bystander that day, and seems to have internalized the significance of September 11th in a way that Kerry still has not.

For proof, look at the Iraq war vote and its campaign aftershocks. Both Kerry and Gephardt supported the war resolution. But as in all things Kerry, the Dean onslaught last fall forced a more nuanced view where Kerry all but ran away from his war vote, and, as if that were not enough, felt compelled later to vote against the $87 billion Iraqi supplemental, a large portion of which was targeted to support US troops.

In contrast, Gephardt helped sponsor the war resolution, despite a pending midterm election where a crass political calculation to play for anti-war votes could have sealed the Speaker’s chair. And despite a deeply anti-war primary voter base, Gephardt refused to take Dean’s bait and walk away from his war vote.

What’s more, though his criticism of Administration policy in Iraq was vocal, Gephardt supported the $87 billion Iraqi supplemental when all political common sense in the primary race would have had him oppose it. In short, Gephardt put principle over politics. He stood up and was counted, despite the political costs, to do what was right.

Conclusion

Kerry will be the first nominee to choose a running mate in the post-9/11 world. Say what you will about Dick Cheney on energy task forces, faulty Iraq intelligence and the constant bugaboo of corporate cronyism, but the fact is that the Vice President’s performance on September 11th defined what America has come to expect of a vice president in a national crisis. Whomever Kerry picks will have to meet that standard, in both style and substance.

With that in mind, consider this scenario. It is early October and the NSA has detected heavy communications traffic indicating that Al Qaeda intends to use its “Madrid option”, and attempt to influence the US election by conducting a terrorist attack on US soil before election day. In an unprecedented move, President Bush and Vice President Cheney ask for a meeting with Senator Kerry and his running mate to present the intelligence and, in a bi-partisan press announcement, raise the terror alert.

Who has the credibility to be at Kerry’s side?

Duffy thinks the question answers itself.  Now it’s over to Monsieur John.

2 comments

  1. Nancy

    Thanks for the share!
    Nancy.R

  2. Hellen Williams

    Appreciated the share!
    Hellen

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