Heading out of the veepstakes: Colin Powell and Chris Dodd

The controversy that engulfed Jim Johnson, the head of Obama's VP vetting team, has now all but destroyed the vice-presidential aspirations of Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. An investigation by CondeNast's Portfolio discovered that Dodd, along with Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and two former cabinet members had benefited from below-market rates and lender fees by mortgage company Countrywide Financial in a special "V.I.P." program.

Portfolio notes that this program, and the participation of lawmakers, might breach the law: "Federal employees are prohibited from receiving gifts offered because of their official position, including loans on terms not generally available to the public. Senate rules prohibit members from knowingly receiving gifts worth $100 or more in a calendar year from private entities that, like Countrywide, employ a registered lobbyist." It is unlikely that an investigation might launched or that it would proceed very far if it did, but Dodd and Conrad would be left with a political problem. The mortgage crisis is one of the year's most pressing economic issues, and one that will feature prominently in the campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. The Illinois Senator has already been hitting his rival over the issue, which is what made his connection to Jim Johnson problematic after the Wall Street Journal made similar allegation against the Democratic operative. Republicans eagerly seized that story to embarrass Obama.

The fact that Johnson offered his resignation within 48 hours and that Obama quickly accepted it highlights the campaign's weariness of being hit on ethics -- especially when it relates to the mortgage industry. And it makes it very unlikely that Obama would turn around within a matter of weeks to overlook what cost him his veep vetter and tap Chris Dodd as his running-mate. Chris Dodd was never in the front-tier of possible picks though his name has sometimes been mentioned. In fact, Joe Biden's stock has always been higher despite the fact that Dodd endorsed Obama shortly after he dropped out of the presidential race while Biden remained neutral throughout the primary.

As a final note, it is ironic that this is what ends up hurting Dodd's chances: the Connecticut Senator is the Chairman of the Senate's Banking Committee and as such was said to be benefiting the most when the conversation turned to the mortgage crisis in the fall of 2007.

In other news involving second-tier VP contenders, Colin Powell made it very difficult for John McCain to turn to him by hinting to a Canadian audience that he might vote for Barack Obama. Powell thus joins the list of Republican politicians who are declining to endorse McCain and are leaving the door open to supporting the Democratic candidate (Chuck Hagel is one of the most notable of these Obamacons). This does not guarantee that Powell would refuse to join the GOP ticket if McCain offered it to him, but it suggests that he would refuse to go after Obama, which all but rules him out of the veepstakes given that one of the vice-presidential nominee's chief missions is to serve as the ticket's attack dog.

In many ways, Powell would have made a lot of sense for the Arizona Senator as he would reinforce the Republicans' attempt to contrast Obama's foreign policy inexperience with McCain's national security strength. He would also allow the GOP to somewhat counter the history-making potential of the Democratic ticket. But Powell's advanced age and lack of economic background were obvious drawbacks.

By the way, note how much quieter McCain's vice presidential search has been than Obama's. The presumptive Republican nominee launched his search much earlier than his opponent and he has reached a more advanced stage but much more has leaked about the Democrat's vetting efforts and Capital Hill consultations. This is partly a reflection of Obama drawing more media attention and partly an expression of the McCain campaign's superior ability to keep the process discrete.

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  • "This is partly a reflection of Obama drawing more media attention and partly an expression of the McCain campaign's superior ability to keep the process discrete."

    Obviously the Jim Johnson story was unwanted, but the Obama camp very publically announced the formation of the committee and I don't think has been trying to keep it discrete.

    The Obama campaign seemed to want to have public attention of the VP process in order to show him as being fully ready to campaign after the primary and to postpone any discussion of Clinton's future until emotions have cooled a bit. Unfortunately, the public way they went about that made the Johnson story bigger news than it might have been otherwise.

    I would put the different levels of media attention on the VP process more on the styles and goals of the campaigns than on a lack of ability in the Obama campaign.

    By Anonymous Asmo, At 14 June, 2008 10:58  

  • I think McCain is being more discrete because he wants to wait till after Obama picks his VP so McCain can then pick a VP who can counter the Obama ticket. Obama is being less discrete for the reasons Asmo described.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 14 June, 2008 15:56  

  • http://loanworkout.org:80/2008/03/02/is-obama-for-the-people-or-the-banks/

    What about Obama's Finance Chair, Penny Pritzker? Shouldn't he fire her, too? Let's have some mainstream coverage of Superior Bank's role as one of the architects of the sub-prime securitization devastation--Penny Pritzker, Come On Down...!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 June, 2008 08:01  

  • I agree with everything Asmo said. Obama's campaign has been notable for its discretion and lack of leaks when it served their interests. Check out the recent article at Pollster by Mark Blumenthal about the process that Obama went through to add new polling teams to his campaign which was kept under the table despite weeks of interviews. Obama needed to publicly put away speculation about Clinton as VP and get her surrogates to back off. Not all leaks are bad.

    By Anonymous dannity, At 15 June, 2008 11:50  

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