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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

John Judis is Making Sense (VP edition) 

I haven't posted on the Veep search, mainly because I don't care about it. See Digby here and Atrios here, who both articulate the reasons why I don't care. But I did just read this on Talkingpointsmemo, where TNR's John Judis is guest-blogging, and it makes sense to me:
Speculation is rife about whom John Kerry will choose as his running mate. Newsweek reports that Kerry "is engrossed in the final shortlist of veep picks. Kerry sources say the choice is narrowing to Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, and that the candidate remains personally uncomfortable with Sen. John Edwards." I have no idea whether this report is accurate, but if it is, the Democrats are in trouble.

There are different criteria Kerry and the Democratic convention delegates should use in choosing a running mate, but they should not include whether the candidate is "personally comfortable" with whomever he chooses. If John F. Kennedy had used this criterion in 1960, Richard Nixon would have won the election. If Ronald Reagan had used it in 1980 and chosen his friend Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt rather than his leading challenger George Bush, Reagan might have lost that election. Gore did use this criterion in 2000, and it's one reason why he lost. In the final tally, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman didn't bring Gore a single electoral college vote. Kerry has to choose a running mate who, above all, will help him win states in the Midwest and South that he may not be able to win on his own.

Among those prospects currently being discussed, there are only two who are sufficiently battle-tested and who could help Kerry where he may not be able to help himself. These are Edwards and Gephardt. In the primary, Edwards showed a Clintonesque ability to appeal to both of the constituencies with whom Kerry is going to have trouble--the white working class voters who used to be described as "Reagan Democrats" and the independent upscale suburbanites who have been trending Democratic, but are leery of the party's leftwing. Edwards could help Kerry be competitive in Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Ohio. (In a Mason-Dixon poll last month pairing Bush and Cheney against Kerry and Edwards in North Carolina, Bush was only ahead by 46 to 45 percent.) He could force the Bush campaign to expend resources in regions it would have liked to take for granted. Gephardt might help Kerry with white working class voters in Missouri, Iowa, and Ohio. But Gephardt's appeal may be more limited than Edwards'. Gephardt is very popular among labor leaders, but, as this year's primary made clear, not necessarily among the rank and file or among non-union workers. He would also reinforce Kerry's image as a Washington insider, making him less attractive to upscale suburbanites.

There is another reason to hope that Kerry puts aside his "comfort level" and picks Edwards. In 2004, 19 Democratic Senate seats are being contested, compared to only 15 Republican ones; and five of the nineteen are in Southern states where Democrats are retiring. Republicans could conceivably win all these seats. If they won even three of them, Democrats would have an almost impossible task of winning back the Senate in 2004, and would face an uphill challenge in 2006 when more Democratic than Republican seats are again up for grabs. Democrats have an interest in fielding a presidential ticket that has credibility, if not popularity, in the South. With Edwards as the vice presidential candidate, the Democrats could put forward a Southern face. If Kerry picks another Northern liberal like himself, Democratic candidates in the Carolinas, Florida, Louisiana and Georgia will be put on the defensive and forced to dissociate themselves from the national ticket. My advice to Kerry: forget chumminess, choose Edwards.


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