Despite denials, Clinton camp increasingly eying VP spot

Hillary Clinton still professes to have her eye on the prize -- the presidential nomination. But her chances have faded irremediably, leading to the question of why she is staying in the race. One of the reasons that is advanced is that she is waging effort to secure the vice-presidential nomination. If the race between the two Democratic candidates had stayed tighter all the way to the June/July, Obama might have been forced to pick her in a last ditch effort to unify the party. But since the primary's competitive part ended on May 6th, Clinton could have quickly lost her strength, which would have given Obama no incentive to choose her as his running-mate.

As Clinton's fortunes have decreased, her surrogates have increasingly touted the possibility of her taking the vice-presidential spot. Ed Rendell for instance, explained back in March that he would be happier with Clinton at the top but that a joint ticket was the way to go. Now, Time and the New York Times are reporting that Bill Clinton is strongly in support of his wife's inclusion on the ticket and suggested that he and his surrogates are pushing the Obama campaign to engage in talks. It did not take long for both the Obama and Clinton campaigns to deny any such rumor, as both have no interest in such news being disseminated. The Obama campaign wants to keep the vice-presidential search under wraps while Clinton's would lose all credibility if they were seen as openly campaigning for the VP spot. Howard Wolfson insisted that these reports were "100% false," and both campaigns explained that there were absolutely no talk between them about a possible joint ticket.

There is no question, however, that Clinton's surrogates are pushing for her selection even while their candidate is professing to have no such desire whatsoever. Today, her top fundraising official, Hassan Nemazee, declared that "Time is not your friend. A dream ticket would be the best way to ensure both unity and full and active support, financially and politically, for the ticket to be in the strongest position to win in the fall." Senator Diane Feinstein, who does not directly speaks for the campaign but who is one of Hillary's most prominent supporters, added that "I am one that believes that if it works out that Senator Obama is the nominee, the strongest ticket would be Senator Clinton as vice president."

In justifying her stance, Feinstein voiced an argument that comes back often among proponents of a dream ticket: She referred to "the weight of the states he carried versus the states she carried. It's different. And, therefore, if you combine them both, you've got the best electoral path." In other words, a joint ticket would combine Clinton's strength in states she looks solid in (Florida, Arkansas, securing a lot of blue states) with Obama's in the states he typically fares better in (the Northwest, Virginia, Colorado). Merge the two candidates' electoral map and you get an electoral rout in the Democrats' favor.

The only problem, of course, is that vice-presidential boosts don't function quite like that. Clinton's inclusion on the ticket would not necessarily deliver to Obama the states in which she appears stronger than him, for vice-presidential candidates typically only marginally boost their ticket. While Clinton appeals to voters who are uncomfortable with Obama and Obama appeals to voters who are uncomfortable with Clinton, it is unlikely that Clinton is the best candidate Obama can choose who will make him more able to conquer blue-collar voters and Hispanics, just as Obama would not necessarily be Clinton's best choice to address her own vulnerabilities if she were to capture the nomination.

There is also the problem of the clashing nature of Obama's message of change with Clinton's persona, and whether contradictions that would emerge would put the Democratic campaign on the defensive, forced to continually explain itself. Finally, I am not sure that Clinton's selection would send a positive message to female voters, as it would show Hillary yet again stuck in a powerless position, subordinated to a male figure, just as she was in the 1990s. A lot of women who are supporting Clinton in the hope of having the first female president could regard her inclusion on the ticket as more problematic than if she was not included.

In other words, it is one thing to prefer Clinton over Obama; it is quite another to believe Clinton is the strongest nominee Obama could choose. And then there is the animosity between the two candidates, one that took quite a dramatic turn today as a controversy exploded on the New York Post, then on Drudge, then throughout the web, about Clinton's comments regarding RFK's assassination. Asked why she was not dropping out, Clinton explained that it was still too early: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."

Clinton had made similar comments in the past, and this time a controversy erupted as the Obama campaign responded that this had no place in the political discussion. All sorts of interpretations quickly surfaced -- Clinton's subconsceous is talking, she is being insensitive, especially given US history and the much-reported fears of black people that something might happen to Obama. Given the fact that Clinton was quite clearly addressing the timeline of previous nomination fights in which the nominee was not chosen in May (in 1980, for instance, the fight went to the convention floor but Jimmy Carter had a majority of delegates secured against Ted Kennedy; and Clinton could have named 1984 but the prolonged fight hurt Democrats then so that's not a parallel Clinton wants to make), this controversy does seem overblown to me but it is revealing of how tense both sides have become and how hard it could be to mend fences in the coming months.



  • "Given the fact that Clinton was quite clearly addressing the timeline of previous nomination fights in which the nominee was not chosen in May (in 1980, for instance, the fight went to the convention floor but Jimmy Carter had a majority of delegates secured against Ted Kennedy; and it is true that Clinton could have named 1984 but the prolonged fight clearly hurt Democrats there so that's not a parallel Clinton wants to make), this controversy does seem a bit silly to me but it is revealing of how tense both sides have become and how hard it could be to mend fences in the coming months."
    Taniel, there are times when its quite clear you're an apologist for HRC, and this is one of them. The question she responded to asked 'why are you staying in the race'. Fairly read, the response (translated) is 'because things happen that change the equation even at this late stage'. Assassination is one of them.

    Besides the fact that she has her history and her time-lines screwed up, the comment shows she has assassination somewhere in her mind. She's gone down this road before.

    I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't think she's hoping for it. What I do think is that she has rather clinically noted the possibility, given the early threats leading to enhanced security for Obama and the widespread concerns in the AA community that he might be a target, and has concluded that it could become a factor.

    If it happened once, I'd say it was a fatigue triggered slip. I wouldn't have admired her for making it part of her calculus, but we all harbor nasty things in our Id that get straightened out in our Super Ego (Freudians still exist). But to come back to it repeatedly? It has to be done for a purpose, and the only one that comes to mind is to create a concern about his viability that might move the Super Ds to opt for a 'safer' candidate.

    (No apology either to his family, for whom the risk must be a daily nightmare. Like the crazy uncle in the attic, political assassination is not part of the respectable political dialog although it always lurks in the background as a concern.)

    We'll probably never know. But it's rather distressing to see you automatically fall in line with her campaign spin, while burying an important story deep in a discussion of her VP possibilities. It raises concerns that your other analysis may also be spun in her favor in less obvious ways. I enjoy the work you bring to the Blog, but a little objectivity in matters like this would strengthen your over-all credibility.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 24 May, 2008 05:55  

  • I tend to agree with zoot. This controversy is just as serious as the "Rev. Wright" or "bitter" ones that Obama endured earlier; but he and his surragates have, to date, taken the high road and given Clinton the benefit of the doubt. Clinton and her supporters were only to glad to pile on with the right-wing media and beat Obama over the head with his, and his former pastors, missteps. If the situation were reversed Bill Clinton and her other supporters would be on every channel saying how insensitive Obama was and how this shows why he sould never be president. It's the central reason people chose him over her.

    By Anonymous fritz, At 24 May, 2008 07:08  

  • I agree and disagree with Taniel on Clinton's remarks. Yes, I think it's silly to interpret her statements as some subconscious desire that something happen to the frontrunner.

    But the bigger issue to me is that her statement offers no justification for staying in the race. She's basically saying she needs to continue contesting the nomination because she needs to be in place in case of an emergency. But it's obvious she's already in that position. If Obama were not the nominee, for any reason, there's really no serious option to Clinton as the alternative and she'd surely get the nod at the convention. So the problem with her statement is not that it's insensitive, but that it's illogical.

    And she's also not really accurately describing history. Yes, Bill Clinton didn't formally have the delegates to secure the nomination until June, but he was recognized as the nominee far earlier in March when all other serious competition had dropped out. So her statement, while technically correct, is misleading.

    As for the VP nod, if one assumes that most Democratic voters will vote Democratic, then Clinton wouldn't bring much to the ticket and might even alienate the independents who find Obama appealing. If Obama's biggest perceived deficiency is national security cred, there are many other possibilities that would better fit the bill.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 24 May, 2008 09:44  

  • Zoot,

    Fair enough, I did bury the story in a discussion of VP possibilities, but I have always minimized controversies like this and only come to them when they grow enough that it really seems like it will impact the race, otherwise we would be spending too much time addressing controversies and accusations. I cannot address every media hype that lasts a few hours on a 3-post-a-day blog before I know that they will have an impact on the race beyond that news cycle.

    I didn't get to the Wright controversy before 2 days had passed, and I was apologizing for even bringing the issue up in my first post about it. Similarly for bittergate, my first post about it balanced the story on Obama with one about Bill Clinton making controversial comments about it and my post started with "In yet another sign that there is very little left to discuss in the primaries, two more controversies were blown out of proportion today." If Clinton's RFK comments continue to make news today, it will be obvious that they could remove her last chance to appeal to supers and I will certainly blog more about it.

    By Blogger Taniel, At 24 May, 2008 10:37  

  • It is maddening to watch the Obama campaign whip up this story as if it was real news. Do they really want to insinuate that Obama could be assasinated?! If you read the transcript, you might assume that Sentaor Clinton is predicting her own demise. But that's not where the Obama camp wants you to go.

    I'm disgusted by the Obama campaign and its media tycoons who twist every comment Clinton makes to feed a frenzied public into feckless rage. Sadly, this is the legacy of Matt Drdge and company. Today, we have Chris Matthews and the god-awful, Keith Olberman, parroting Drudge-like behavior. It didn't take them five minutes to turn this into an anti-Clinton moment. If Olberman was worth his salt as a journalist, he would have invited Clinton to appear on his tee-vee show and defend herself.

    The media packaged and sold us George W. Bush's war on terror. Now the media is trying to sell us Barack Obama, who has been packaged so tightly, there is nothing left of the man. This is where we are in 2008 and it is a disgrace. The environment is pure poison.

    Clinton deserves to run for president, and given the relentless assaults on her character, I am amazed she has hung on. In response to her remarks, Robert Kennedy, Jr. said it was a fair comparison to make, and in no way took offense. Why, oh why, do media and campaign operatives do this? If this is how we are going to run campaigns for president, I'm out of here. I won't compromise my integrity by voting for a guy who can't control his own staff and comes off as an uncharitiable, indecent and callous man.

    When the media finally turns on Obama - and they will - this house of cards will fall.

    Wake up! Don't let the media sell you another bill of goods.

    By Anonymous Tom, At 24 May, 2008 10:53  

  • Thanks Taniel - I appreciate the measured tenor of your response. We all have a pov and I meant no disrespect for what I perceive yours to be, though I don't share it.

    I understand that you don't want to get caught up in these 60-second whirlwinds that tear through the Web, so that makes sense. But there is a second issue - your characterization of her comment.

    I am still puzzled by how the comment is even remotely responsive to the question, or for that matter how it relates to her first example, which was on point, if inaccurate historically. The logical explanation is that she thought we should keep it in mind as something that can change everything, that it makes outcome uncertain even at this late date.

    You may want to take a second look at the sentence that states "given the fact that Clinton was quite clearly addressing the timeline...." She may have started out that way, but it's far from clear that's where she wound up. As we say in the law biz 'you're assuming a fact not in evidence'.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 24 May, 2008 10:58  

  • Well on the JFK comment, as long as she doesn't say this again I think I will be fine with it.

    I disagree with you Taniel about Obama not needing to pick her. I believe that Clinton would not be Obama's best running mate: in fact it could be more of a distraction. But she isn't weak enough that Obama could adamently refuse her: in fact she has many devoted supporters, and this shows in Obama's weakness among registered Democrats in the GE. If Clinton asks Obama to be on the ticket as VP Obama will have to accept: to do otherwise is to guarntee that masses of Clinton supporters will refuse to vote for him in Novemember. However, while many people, including Bill, want Clinton on the ticket, it isn't clear that she wants to be on herself.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 24 May, 2008 11:40  

  • If Clinton asks Obama to be on the ticket as VP Obama will have to accept: to do otherwise is to guarntee that masses of Clinton supporters will refuse to vote for him in Novemember.

    Do we really know this? I find it hard to believe that large masses of Clinton supporters would give McCain the opportunity to appoint two justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, especially if Clinton told them what was at stake.

    But even if some did defect or sat out, one must then ask whether that number would be greater than the loss of independents and crossover Republicans who might not vote for Obama if she were on the ticket; as much as some voters are passionately devoted to her, others find her a real turn-off. Also, there's the consideration of additional voters who might be attracted to a ticket of Obama and a VP with real national security credentials but might not otherwise vote for him.

    The pluses and minuses of having different candidates as the VP choice have to be considered, not just the downside among some Democrats of not having Clinton. It's a more complicated calculation.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 24 May, 2008 13:26  

  • I don't believe Hillary has any desire to see that the frontrunner be assassinated. But I'd believe that by making this outrageous comment, she is inciting some retarded bigot to change the trajectory of the race by doing her a favor of killing Barack Obama. In essence, she is unfortunately presenting herself as the foster child of hateful and clinically self-centered politicians.
    To have her on the VP spot sends a shock wave to the world and tells the whole world that we don't mind being led by a violence-inciting and ruthless president.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 24 May, 2008 19:31  

  • Tom--

    No offense, but the idea that the Obama campaign has whipped up this controversy is patently false. They have done *nothing* but minimize it every time they're asked about it, and they have *never* brought it up independently that I've seen. Your outrage is totally, totally misplaced.


    I'm with dsimon, I don't think Obama has to pick her at all. Yes, refusing to pick her if she asks might upset a small number of her most devoted followers to the point where they won't vote for him in November. However, I think in three months this will be far enough in the rearview (God willing that the supers end this nonsense in June) that the vast majority of her supporters will be more worried about John McCain's America than their loss. Meanwhile, picking up Clinton picks up a tremendous amount of baggage--Obama may as well cede the Independent vote to McCain and write-off any crossover Republican vote right now. Clinton might help him unify his base, but he'll need more than a unified base in the general.

    By Blogger Stephen, At 25 May, 2008 11:12  

  • Stephen,

    No offense taken. I think it would be a mistake, however, to underestimate David Axelrod and the rest of the Obama campaign staff. Recall how they wasted no time jumping on George W. Bush for his comments on appeasement. This staff is ready to tear down its opponent, even if she's a Democrat. Fortunately, they have a willing ally in the media today, who despise Senator Clinton as well as President Bush.

    My point is that the press and media got it wrong. Hillary Clinton was not insinuating that Obama should be killed; she was discussing her willingness to stay in the race. She knows it would be political suicide to even hint at such a thing. But how did the media come to this conclusion? This is where you and I disagree. I have no doubt that the Obama campaign, seeing an opportunity to take her down, leapt feet first and ran with it, publishing the story and, no doubt, faxing a missive to their media darling, Keith Olberman, who concocted a diatribe just in time for the evening telvision hour. The Obama campaign did not acknowledge any involvement in this story. Why should they? The damage is already done.

    I understand that it confounds the mind to think Obama staffers would be involved in this kind of stuff. After all, their guy's in the lead, and everyone in the media and the press has already discounted Clinton as a serious contender. In addition, they want us to think Obama is sqeaky clean - honest, sincere, charming, and , most importantly, not a politician like all those others who came before him. So, the question is why would they run with this story?

    I suspect it has to do with the lessons learned from people like Matt Drudge and Karl Rove. Personally, I find it shocking to see the Obama camp use Rove's play book. After all, they claim that it's Clinton who is most like the GOP, not Obama. I also loathe the Clinton machine for doing the same, and God knows we've seen this too many times before. But it challenges my integrity when a candidate claims he's a saint, and turns out to be a low-life.

    I don't want or need another Republican party in America. I don't want more Matt Drudges in the world. And I definitely do not want to see more reminders of Karl Rove's suicidal strategies.
    Hypocrisy is a two-edged sword; just ask George W. Bush. Obama will learn this lesson the hard way as staffers continue to use the GOP playbook all the while masquerading their intentions by offering "no comment" to familiar questions.

    Alas, that is the morass of our US presidential politics today, which is why I may sit this one out. The faith I learned as a kid still applies today: avoid the near occasion of sin.

    By Anonymous Tom, At 25 May, 2008 15:21  

  • I have no doubt that the Obama campaign, seeing an opportunity to take her down, leapt feet first and ran with it, publishing the story and, no doubt, faxing a missive to their media darling, Keith Olberman, who concocted a diatribe just in time for the evening telvision hour. The Obama campaign did not acknowledge any involvement in this story.

    I think that's quite a bit to assume without any evidence. On the other hand, I think there's plenty of evidence that the media will jump on any ill-phrased comments without any help from the campaigns (e.g. "bitter" and "clinging"). Almost everything a candidate says becomes available these days through the blogosphere, and news outlets are looking for anything that might make a story.

    So without more facts to back up the assumptions, I see lots of room for doubt that the Obama campaign was behind this one. It would be dangerous of them to take the risk of a denial if evidence came out that they were indeed pushing the story; why would they take that risk if they're ahead? Obama may not be squeaky clean (after all, he's a politician), but I doubt he'd fake a denial where a leak could undo his campaign.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 25 May, 2008 18:34  

  • Just updating my prior post.

    The NY Times yesterday had an article stating that the Obama campaign did send out an email message to reporters after Clinton made her RFK remark, and also sent a transcript Keith Olbermann's caustic Friday "Countdown" commentary to reporters. So the campaign did have a role in spreading the news.

    So I agree that the Obama campaign is not blameless. Still, Obama made statements trying to mitigate the situation over the weekend. And it's possible the news would have spread anyway, though it wouldn't excuse the campaign's participation in doing so.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 27 May, 2008 15:08  

  • Obama campaign.


    Clinton RFK remark.


    The insinuation that the Obama campaign fanned the flames.

    Absolute, 100%, USDA, pure grade A HORSEHIT!

    Clinton is too smart and too well polished and too in control of herself to have issued such a comment without meaning it. She started this, she will have to live with it.

    This is a typical "scorched earth" Clinton tactic: blame the other guy when you utterly screw-up.

    I wrote a week ago that this would backfire on Clinton and as you can all see, the superdelegates think this as well. Not one single super has come out for Clinton today. Today would be the day for her to pull out the big guns and show us that she can get 96.54% of the remaining supers, which is what she needs to get the nomination.

    So, enough of this horseshit from anonymous posters who don't have enough guts to show their faces. Slimebags!

    There, I feel much better now. Thank you, Taniel.

    The running statistics, down to 1/100th of a percent, you can find at .

    And comments are moderated on my blog, which means that anonymous catfish have no chance.

    By Blogger Mark, At 03 June, 2008 16:47  

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