Thursday, 3 March 2016

Hillary's VP - the runners and riders

So Hillary Clinton has survived a bit of a Sanders scare and is pretty set to be the Democratic Presidential nominee. So the next question is who she picks to be her running mate.

Traditionally, a Vice Presidential choice was used to balance out the ticket in terms of age, geography and ideology (think Kennedy/Johnson). Nowadays, thankfully, we are in an age when simply picking from a stream of middle-aged white straight men isn’t the only choice. So factoring in ethnicity, gender and other considerations is also important.

But even more so is the state that the VP candidate comes from. Is it a swing state that s/he can bring into your column at the election? There is little to gain in this respect from picking a VP from a safe state or one which you have no chance of winning. (There are always exceptions to the rule, of course. The first President Clinton picked Al Gore from the next door state of Tennessee as his running mate.)

So Hillary is a New York, experienced, female, moderate, white candidate. If she is looking for balance, she will probably be looking for someone from the South, Mid West or Far West. She can afford to have a fresh face, although the younger the candidate, the more the party will be looking at the choice as being their automatic Presidential pick in eight years time. Few worried about that with Joe Biden. There is a huge amount to be gained by having an African American on the ticket - although she is doing hugely well with this demographic in the primaries, she needs to secure turnout in the general election. But there is much less to be gained with a Hispanic American VP. There is only one swing state where Hispanic votes will make a difference - Florida - and this has very particular circumstances where the only Hispanic voice that matters is a Cuban American voice.

So, what does this mean in terms of names?

The bookies favourite at the moment is Julian Castro, currently Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former Mayor of San Antonio in Texas. He was an early endorser of Clinton and has been campaigning for her. The trouble is that Texas is not really in play at this election, so he fails on that score and his Mexican heritage doesn’t win votes in Florida. His work with HUD is important as this is a key ministry for African American issues, particularly in the North East and Mid-West. But he is far too short a price (9/4 Ladbrokes) to be considered any sort of value.

Elizabeth Warren (8/1 Ladbrokes) would be a fabulous choice for VP for all those of us on the liberal wing of politics. But it just isn’t going to happen.

Martin O’Malley (10/1 Ladbrokes) was an early casualty of the Democratic Presidential race. He never really caught on with the voters and, being from Maryland, adds little to the ticket.

Former Indiana Governor and Senator Evan Bayh (20/1 Ladbrokes) ticks the swing state box, but has been out of elected office since 2011 so there will be doubts about whether he has the organisation to bring his state with him.

I’m a big fan of Cory Booker (20/1 Ladbrokes), the hugely energetic Senator from New Jersey. He too was an early supporter of Clinton’s. But if Trump picks Chris Christie as his VP then it would mean two Presidential candidates from New York with New Jersey running mates. I’m going to say not this time for Booker, but he clearly has huge things ahead of him.

Sherrod Brown (20/1 Ladbrokes), the Senator from Ohio, is an interesting option as he represents one of the key swing states. He is pegged as one of the most liberal members of the Senate, which would help Clinton with Sanders supporters in the general election. But he is said to be very, very uninterested in the job. Even more of a problem is that his successor as senator would be appointed by Republican Governor John Kasich.

I’m going to narrow it down to two candidates from Colorado and two from Virginia. Both states are key to the election - albeit with relatively few voters in Colorado’s case, a bit too close to Washington in the case of Virginia.

From out west we get Senator Michael Bennet (25/1 Paddy Power) - son of a diplomat, a lawyer and business fixer. He’s a key supporter of Obamacare, immigration reform and the stimulus package, pegging him very much in the ‘continuing Obama’s legacy’ camp. But... Bennet is up for re-election this year and having him as VP candidate would mean running a huge risk of losing his senate seat. Control of the Senate is important to Clinton because of the likelihood that the supreme court nomination fight will be held over until after the election. Bennet could, technically, run in both races at the same time, but more likely would be a replacement senate candidate and the only one that controls the risk of handing the seat to the GOP by coming in at this late stage is...

Governor John Hickenlooper (20/1 Ladbrokes) - who would be great value for his name alone. He’s a former businessman, geologist and Mayor of Denver. If he does get the nod for VP then expect to see the GOP raising the issue of cannabis legalisation. Colorado was the first state to liberalise the law in this regard and, although he made statements opposing the change, Gov. Hickenlooper has nonetheless had to sign such provisions into law.

From Virginia we have Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Warner (20/1 Ladbrokes) is a former governor of the state and head of the Forward Together PAC - the leading Third Way organisation in the US. He was touted as having presidential ambitions in 2008 and then considered for the VP gig until opting for the senate seat. For all that he represents a state in the South (just), I think he is too ideologically similar to Clinton to get the nod.

Senator Tim Kaine (12/1 Paddy Power) is a lawyer and former Mayor of Richmond who replaced Mark Warner as Governor of the state (the position is limited to one term). He was very high on Obama’s list of potential VP candidates. His downside comes with conflicted positions on moral issues. As a Roman Catholic he opposes abortion, but says he would not want to see the current position weakened. He is personally opposed to the death penalty but oversaw eleven executions as governor. I think that would make for a tortuous VP debate.

Clearly there is no single candidate who ticks all the boxes. So while Julian Castro has a lot going for him, his price is way too short to be attractive. I’m going to tip Michael Bennet. But I'm going to put a caveat out there. This article in the New York Times suggests that Clinton should be concerned about the lack of turnout in African American and Hispanic communities. I think the premise of this article has its flaws - turnout may well have fallen because Clinton is seen as a shoo-in - but there still may be the view that turning out a key demographic matters more than any individual swing state. Which makes Cory Booker - the only realistic black candidate for VP - still a real contender.

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