VP watch: Nunn backtracks on gay rights, Webb campaigns with Obama, Clinton steps back

Former Sen. Sam Nunn, often mentioned as a possible vice-presidential pick for Barack Obama, is giving signs that he is indeed interested in the job. Last week, I explained that Nunn would be one of the Left's nightmare picks because of his profile as a very conservative Democrat -- and one who would fully embrace Obama's post-partisan message -- and also because of his dreadful record on gay rights. Fourteen years ago, he was one of the main opponents of Bill Clinton's efforts to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving within the military and he used unmistakably gay-baiting methods.

Given how important a role gay rights have played in the political debate in the last 5 years (and will do so again this year now that California conservatives managed to get an amendment to ban gay marriage on the November ballot), Nunn's past should a factor that plays against him in the vetting process. While it might help Obama to have a running mate who is socially more conservative, Nunn's presence on the campaign trail would lead reporters to ask more rather than less gay rights questions to Obama, forcing him to revisit the issue more than he would like to.

Aware of this handicap, Sam Nunn chose to publicly backtrack this week, saying that "times change" and that it is time for the Pentagon to review "Don't ask, don't tell," a policy which Nunn played a huge role in implementing in 1994. Nunn explained that, "It's appropriate to take another look at it -- see how it's working, ask the hard questions, hear from the military." The timing of his declaration should lift any doubt that he is aiming for a position in the Obama Administration -- if not the vice-presidency than some secretarial nomination (Nunn is, after all, more than 70 years old). Why else would he suddenly come out with such a surprising declaration? "Don't ask, don't tell," after all, is not playing a prominent role in this year's campaign.

Meanwhile, veep speculation today centered on Jim Webb, who campaigned with Barack Obama as he held his first major event of the general election in Bristol, Virginia -- a move intended to confirm that his campaign intends to fully compete in the Old Dominion this year. Remember that Virginia and Colorado are the two states that the Obama campaign will cite first when ask where they are hoping to expand the map this cycle. Also accompanying Obama and Webb was Mark Warner about whom vice-presidential rumors circulated a few weeks ago though Obama will be reluctant to take Warner away from his current campaign for Senate. In fact, Obama has as much to gain from Warner appearing on the senatorial ballot as the former Governor is likely to poll much better than the party's presidential tickets and Democrats can hope for some reverse coattails.

Finally -- and inevitably -- Hillary Clinton was at the center of all VP talk today, and this will likely remain the case until Obama makes his pick. Note that John Kerry was in a similar situation in 2004 when he did bow do public pressure and selected John Edwards as his running mate. After prominent Clinton backers (starting with Lanny Davis) started a public effort yesterday to push Obama into selecting his now-former rival as his running mate, Clinton backtracked today, saying she was not interested in the job (something all potential picks have to say) and saying that the decision was entirely Obama's and that she would not make any specific demand. Hillary Clinton must have realized that her supporters' pressure was becoming too explicit and that the Obama campaign would never cave in to it for fear of appeared weak and of prolonging the Clintons' dominance.

Update: Via Marc Ambinder, it looks like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are finally having that meeting though it is being held in secret and far away from the press corps.



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