6.24.2008

VP watch: Biden, Sebelius and Crist campaigning more or less overtly

It is still early in the veepstake game. Barack Obama only wrapped up the nomination three weeks ago and the two candidates are giving themselves more than a month to pick a running-mate. In fact, Marc Ambinder reports that neither campaign has yet winnowed down the field of potential picks to those who will be asked to submit vetting documents: medical and tax records, answers to embarrassing questions.

Since both Obama and McCain are likely to make that first cut soon, this is a particularly important time for those politicians who want to be seriously considered and who want to be vetted. Except for those politicians who are look certain to be vetted (say, Pawlenty and Sebelius), every statement and action from a potential VP is doubly important right now. A successful attack on the opposite party can attract your candidate's attention, for instance.

But is there such a thing as too overt campaigning for the vice-presidential slot? Mitt Romney will find out soon enough, as he has done little since the day he dropped out other than do whatever the McCain team could have asked him to do. On the Democratic side, Joe Biden has been demonstrating how effective an attack dog he would be by offering scathing reviews of McCain's foreign policy positions, months after he ridiculed Giuliani when he said that his sentences consisted of "a noun, a verb and 9-11."

On Sunday, Biden declared on NBC's Meet the Press that he would accept the nomination if it was offered to him by Obama. "The answer I’ve got to say is yes," he said. This does not seem a particularly forceful statement, but it is nonetheless a break from the tradition that potential veep picks remain discreet and never offer definite answers about anything. In fact, is the art of artfully changing the subject one of the tests VPs need to pass?

More seriously, Joe Biden would make a lot of sense as the Democrat's running mate. He gained a lot of positive reviews for his campaigning last year, and he has been among the most effective attack dogs over the past few months, displaying his willingness to do what VPs are meant to do while on the trail. Biden is also among the most experienced Democrats when it comes to foreign policy, ensuring that he would be effective on the topics McCain would love to focus the campaign on. The downside, of course, is Biden's tendency to speak too quickly and the last thing Obama needs in the coming months is to waste time addressing a Biden gaffe.

More discreetly campaigning is Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, whom Ben Smith points out referred to herself as an "Ohio girl" and praised Obama's "Kansas values" on Saturday. This is a clever way for Sebelius to highlight the strength she would bring to the ticket. Obama's Kansas roots are an essential part of the biography the Democrat is introducing to voters this months, with the expression "Kansas values" featuring in Obama's first general election ad. Who better than that state's Governor can tout that message and strengthen Obama's appeal in the heartland?

While some of the governor's doubters contend that she would not help the ticket in any particular state, Sebelius seems to be aware of that weakness and seeking to address it. By calling herself an "Ohio girl," she is signifying that her appeal would extend across the Midwest and that her success in convincing conservative voters in red Kansas bodes well for the reception she would receive in states that are more obviously on the list of battlegrounds -- starting with Ohio.

On the Republican side, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has been attracting a lot of attention of his own, starting with his surprising decision last week back McCain's proposal to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling. That has long an idea vigorously opposed by Florida politicians, and one Crist had consistently rejected. While there have been some indications over the past few days that McCain's move might not be as unpopular in Florida as it was first thought, Crist's willingness to quickly rally behind his party's nominee on an issue so central to his own career betrayed his eagerness to be considered for the vice-presidential slot.

As I have often pointed out, Crist's biggest weakness is the insistent rumors about his sexual orientation. Will McCain risk a bombshell revelation over the next few months that would anger social conservatives and potentially keep them at home? Crist's denials have franklydone nothing to squash speculation ("No, man. No. I love women. I mean, they're wonderful.") and the issue has now made its way to an interview Crist conducted with New York Times magazine. This is the end of the interview:

Your personal life is not that of a typical Republican candidate. For starters, I hear you’re not a property owner. It is true. I do not own property. I just never found a need for it. Now I have the Governor’s Mansion, and I rent a condo in St. Petersburg.

You were married nearly 30 years ago, but the marriage lasted less than a year. Do you prefer living alone? I got married and divorced because it didn’t work out. I haven’t found the right one since. It’s really that simple.

You can’t find one woman in all of Florida? Maybe I have. Stay tuned.

Note the use of "the right one" in that second answer and the non-committal suggestion that Crist might soon no longer be a bachelor. Talk about doing what it takes to be included in the list of the vetted? I also included the first question as a reminder that Crist faces the distrust of business conservatives as well, many of whom regard him as a more of a Democrat than a Republican and are angered by what they perceive as excessive moderation. The National Review profiled him last month, coming close to vetoing Crist (not that McCain owes much to the National Review or similar groups).

Most recent VP headlines:
  • June 20: James Jones chooses McCain, Frank warns against Nunn
  • June 16: Jindal's exorcism problem and (more-or-less credible) Democratic denials
  • June 13: Colin Powell and Chris Dodd heading out of veepstakes
  • June 11: Strickland, Jones spark weird storylines as Obama's vetter resigns
  • All coverage for Democrats and Republicans

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