The Wall Street Journal; by Lanny J. Davis; July 31, 2008
Picking a vice president is obviously Barack Obama’s decision to make. He must be comfortable with who he picks. Comfort level between a president and vice president may be the most important factor of all.
So I can only offer my argument, based on some facts and subjective impressions, as to why I believe it would be in Sen. Obama’s personal and political interest to select Hillary Rodham Clinton as his vice presidential running mate. Not just to enhance his chances of winning — but, more important, to help him be a more effective president.
Let’s start with one undisputable fact: Sen. Clinton is the only Democrat who gives Sen. Obama a statistically significant boost in any national poll results.
This is not a criticism of other candidates. This is simply a fact — a product of Sen. Clinton’s nearly 18-month national campaign in all 50 states and the 18 million votes she won. The result was a dramatic increase in her favorable ratings across the spectrum, even among some of her most conservative critics.
In late June, polls conducted by The Wall Street Journal/NBC and Fox/Opinion Dynamics — using entirely different samples — both showed Sen. Clinton giving Sen. Obama a +3% bump, pushing him over 51% for the first time, when the two of them were paired against Sen. McCain and Gov. Romney.
Most recently, in nationwide polling on July 22-23, a Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll showed a more dramatic bump of +8% with Sen. Clinton as Sen. Obama’s vice presidential running mate. In a head-on match, it was Sen. Obama 41% to Sen. McCain’s 40% (this was before the intense media coverage of his European trip). But with exactly the same sample, when all voters were presented with the choice of an Obama-Clinton ticket vs. McCain-Romney, the results were Obama-Clinton, 48% (+7%), and McCain-Romney 39% (-1%).
Can Sen. Obama win without Sen. Clinton on the ticket? Yes he can. Majorities favor his views on most of the economic issues. And his European trip was virtually flawless, demonstrating that he can walk, talk and act like a president in foreign affairs and with foreign leaders.
However, with Sen. Clinton on the ticket, I do not believe Sen. Obama can lose. She adds important strength to Sen. Obama’s in the key constituencies of women, blue-collar workers and senior citizens. And, thus, she could tip the balance in such key border states as West Virginia, Kentucky and Arkansas (not apparently in play for Sen. Obama as of now), as well as in the key battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida.
So, considering this data, why not pick Sen. Clinton? Here are the three most repeated negatives that seem to concern sincere supporters of Sen. Obama the most:
– Sen. Clinton is polarizing and will rev up the Republican base.
In fact, the data proves the reverse is true: Sen. Clinton has little or no effect on Republican preferences in a race against Sen. McCain — and she helps Sen. Obama significantly among Democrats.
According to the July 22-23 Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll, in an Obama-McCain head-on match-up, Sen. Obama gets just 74% of the Democrats and 6% of the Republicans. With Sen. Clinton as his running mate vs. a McCain-Romney ticket, Sen. Obama’s Democratic vote goes up to 86% — a significant 12% increase. As for Republican voters, rather than getting “revved up” because of Hillary’s presence on the ticket, there was no effect at all: The Obama-Clinton ticket gains 3% (from 6% to 9% among Republicans), whereas McCain-Romney gains the same 3% (from 82% to 85%).
So what about independents? An Obama-Clinton ticket appears to gain some strength in this critical swing-voter group. With an Obama-McCain head-on contest, independents are evenly divided, 32%-30%, with Sen. Obama over Sen. McCain. But with an Obama-Clinton ticket vs. a McCain-Romney ticket, the independents favor Obama-Clinton 38%-30% — a statistically significant 6% increase in a crucial voter group.
– Choosing Sen. Clinton would be counter to the Obama message of “new politics” and change.
The simple answer: How can choosing the first woman vice president in the history of the United States be a choice for the status quo? How can choosing someone who can help the future President Obama bring to America its first affordable and effective national health insurance system reinforce the status quo rather than change? The answer is: Older doesn’t mean status quo. Hillary Clinton is a change agent and always has been throughout her public career. Barack Obama selecting her as the first female vice president would reinforce his change message, not detract from it.
– She would not be a team player, and her husband would be a distraction or worse in an Obama White House.
The answer here comes down to knowing Hillary and Bill Clinton as real people, not as cartoon characters. No one who knows either one of them believes there is a shred of truth to this widely held misperception.
Hillary Clinton is the ultimate team player and I have no doubt she would be an invaluable vice president. She knows from firsthand experience the importance of a supportive and involved vice president.
I am certain of this — not just because of my personal friendship with her over 39-plus years, in the best of times and in the worst of times. But also I know — and I believe even her critics would agree — that she is first and foremost a dedicated public servant. And she would do everything, everything, to help her president succeed because by doing so the nation and the American people would benefit. As long as I’ve known her, that has always been her life’s driving goal: public service to help people.
So what about Bill Clinton? Well, what about him? He loves his wife, he loves his country, and he would be 100% dedicated to helping a President Obama in any way the president wished. If that means being quiet and not distracting from the messages or issues the Obama White House is focusing on, Bill Clinton will do whatever it takes to be helpful.
Of course having a former president as the spouse of the vice president in the White House, much less someone with the intellectual power and star quality of Bill Clinton, will be a challenge to a President Obama and his White House. Few can deny that. But the last time I looked, Sen. Obama does pretty well dealing with challenges, even those his closest friends and confidantes are worried about.
In the final analysis, to repeat, this is Sen. Obama’s personal and political decision and he must be comfortable with the choice. I respect that. I honor that. These are my best arguments that it is in his political interest and his future administration’s interest to have Hillary Clinton by his side on the ticket as vice president — as a cheerleader and articulate supporter, as a candid adviser, and as a friend inside the White House with eight years of frontline experience of what it’s like.
Now it’s up to Sen. Obama. Whatever his decision, I will support it.
Mr. Davis is a Washington attorney and former special counsel to President Clinton (1996-98). He was an active supporter of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential nominating contest.