VP watch: Strickland, Jones spark weird storylines, as Obama's vetter resigns

Quickening the VP process, two vetters from the Obama campaign (Jim Johnson, who is dealing with his own major problems, and Eric Holder) traveled to Capitol Hill this week to talk to Democratic lawmakers about potential picks. Naturally, part of this process is meant to get names leaked to the press to float trial balloons and see how different figures might fare. Not to mention that the press and the blogs immediately start vetting the front-runners and report on some of their findings before the candidates make their pick.

For instance, the negative response to Sam Nunn among some blogs (mine included) will hopefully help steer Obama away from the former Georgia Senator. And it is hard to notice that the press has a particular affinity for airing critical stories about Jim Webb. Today, Politico reports on Webb's frequent defense the Confederacy; for instance, he has "seemed to suggest that states were justified in trying to secede." While it is unlikely that Obama might end up with a significant problem with black voters whoever he puts on the ticket and while this peace doesn't reveal anything that hasn't been already mentioned over the past few years, this drumbeat of stories plays along the conventional wisdom that Webb would be a risky choice and that he would bring with him a number of issues that the Democrats' campaign would be force to address on the trail.

It was only a metter of time after Obama's team left Capitol Hill that there would be some leaks. Senator Conrad of North Dakota said today that 20 names were discussed, including a number of "former military leaders." It is worth keeping remembering that both campaigns will float names that are not truly under consideration if they think they can get any sort of benefit., and a lot of what we will hear in the coming weeks from both parties will be a game of make-believe.

The military information has sparked furious speculation through the day: Who are these former military leaders? Numerous sources, starting with First Read, are naming a surprising and unexpected name who had not yet popped up in potential running mates: James Jones, a retired general and the former commander of NATO. Jones is now the CEO of an institute that is affiliated to the Chamber of Commerce. Yet, the story becomes especially strange when we consider that John McCain and James Jones are friends, as Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. Not only that, but Jones serves as an outside adviser to McCain's campaign and the Republican presumptive nominee talks about naming Jones in his Administration. Could Obama still select Jones? There are limits to post-partisanship, and would Jones even consider an offer by the Democrat?

Speaking of potential picks declining an offer, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, one of the front-runners in the Democratic veepstakes, insisted that he would not accept becoming his party's nominee. Interviewed on NPR, he declared: "If drafted I will not run, nominated I will not accept and if elected I will not serve. So, I don’t know how more crystal clear I can be." While all potential running mates make sure to vehemently deny all speculation, it is rare for them to issue this adamant a declaration. So has Strickland truly removed himself from the veepstakes? The Ohio Governor is extremely popular in his home-state and seemed to be the choice Obama would settle on if he wanted to choose a former Clinton supporter and not pick Hillary. (Marc Ambinder points out that Strickland has been saying this for a while, so this should not be taken as a rebuke directed towards Obama.)

Update: More on this later if it continues to be a controversy, but Obama's chief vetter Jim Johnson has just resigned from the Obama campaign as the controversy about his ties to a mortgage company was mounting. This made it difficult for the Illinois Senator to take the high road on a major economic issue on which he intends to pound McCain. This is obviously a blow to the Democratic campaign as Johnson is considered as one of the most seasoned vetters either party has to offer. Also, he had been heading the process for a while now whereas his two co-chairs had come on board more recently, so it will all take some catching up (and it's not like Obama was able to start the process very early...).



  • Sam Nunn would be a disaster !!
    Too old, too conservative, too pro-military

    Where's the 'Change' there ?

    ditto for General Johnson

    Strickland might have made a good conciliatory gesture to Clinton supporters, but he doesn't want the VP slot

    I'm getting a little antsy about Jim Webb.....

    Stick with vetted politicians:
    Edcwards is a populist and embodies 'Change'

    Biden brings foreign policy experience

    Likewise Richardson with foreign policy, and he also might help with New Mexico and Latinos

    Don't forget Chris Dodd
    He took some principled stands

    Edwards or Biden would be best

    MSierra, SF

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 11 June, 2008 13:24  

  • Hmmm....too bad about Webb. He is an impressive guy in many ways, brings a specific weight to the campaign that Obama doesn't have himself (military, foreign policy/defense creds, appeals to white mid-South voters). I agree that his selection wouldn't affect AA votes to any extent, and no-one in her/his right mind would accuse Obama of racism by proximity, but it so blurs what Obama is about and affects perceptions of his competence as to make it easier for other voters to migrate to McCain. This is particularly true when you pair it with the misstep on Johnson and other issues that have swirled around him.

    Obama's major challenge (but not the only one) is to convince voters that he has the skill set, judgment and depth for the job. Taking on a VP with idiosyncratic views on issues of real sensitivity will be hurtful.

    Who's next - Wesley Clark?

    By Anonymous zoot, At 11 June, 2008 16:34  

  • What about John Kerry? I know he has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth, but he would be make a great VP. Biden, Dodd or Richardson would also bring excellent foreign policy experience. But I totally agree with anonymous about Nunn. What a disaster that would be; old, egotistical, and conservative anti-gay southern democrat. No thanks! Also, no Richard Gephardt, no Robert Byrd, and no other half-dead politicians called up from the retirement.

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 11 June, 2008 17:32  

  • daniel g. - Kerry would be the GOP's *** dream. (Just saving Taniel the trouble of expurgating it.) He's a terrible campaigner, ponderous and boring, and he's an HO-scale version of Clinton in the way he energizes the GOP and provides built-in sloganeering.

    Bayh brings the same negatives leavened with very little public profile in critical areas. Edwards probably means it when he says he's not interested, as there are some indications that Elizabeth's illness is progressing.

    I agree that Obama needs someone with foreign policy and defense heft, but Biden, Dodd and Richardson are a bit too warmed over, and because of long tenure in the Senate, may be rather restrained in taking on McCain with any real vigor. I have to assume McCain will continue to get very personal in his attacks, and the VP has to be prepared to respond in kind. Besides, their policy differences are part of the political landscape and may generate ho-hum reactions from the voters.

    Clark imports someone from the Clinton camp. I am assuming his military credentials hold up, although I have a distant memory that they came under attack re Yugoslavia in 2004. He's personally attractive, but doesn't bring what I thought Webb could in getting populist gut reactions from mid-South and hourly wage white voters.

    I wonder how damaging Webb's Confederate sympathies would be? I don't think black voters will have an issue since he'd be paired with Obama. The GOP is not a noted bastion of civil rights, and they risk turning off the Southern base of white voters by affecting shock and concern about Webb's proclivities. There'd be all kinds of garment rending on the Web, in the punditocracy and amongst anguished urban intellectuals, but where else are they going to go - Nader?

    Too bad about the Johnson flap. In and of itself, it was probably a 60-second wonder, but Obama's offhandedness gives it more legs than that. His coolness can come across as cavalier, and that bothers voters. IMO, he should have met it with a virulent counter-attack on Gramm, Black and the other hangers-on around McCain and gutted it out, as discarding Johnson plays into the story line that he dumps friends and family at the first sign of trouble. He has to keep his own hands clean, but that doesn't mean the campaign should play patty-cake, since McCain certainly hasn't and won't

    By Anonymous zoot, At 12 June, 2008 02:42  

  • I don't think that it's true that Obama's offhandedness drove the Johnson story. It was driven as payback for McCain's recent lobbyists woes. The GOP had reason to attempt to drive the story, and reporters wanting to not look "biased" have given the story way more air than it would have in any normal situation. Plus, while McCain and his camp seems to be tripping all over themselves, this is really the only nook in the Obama camp's armor for anyone to gossip about.

    The Charley Black story is much more egregious than the Jim Johnson one, but Black was underplayed by the media while Johnson has been overplayed for exactly that reason, and the fact that Obama seems to be running a MUCH tighter ship than McCain. If the media plays this right, they'll get months of exciting headlines touting a "neck and neck" race. So, when Obama opens up a bit of a lead in the polls, play up a story like Johnson, and see if that pull him back down.

    It's not necessarily malicious toward Obama - at least in most quarters - but it does serve the short term financial best interests of those who write the headlines.

    By Anonymous dannity, At 12 June, 2008 08:55  

  • zoot--

    Can't say I agree on Biden, he clearly is eager to and capable of slamming McCain, Bush, and the GOP. He'd be great in the VP's attack dog role, and he's a familiar white male face that'll blunt the hesitation that some older conservative Democrats and Independents clearly feel toward Obama. Add in his foreign policy cred, and I think he's a good pick--provided he can keep his foot out of his mouth.

    Edwards has said he's not interested in the Veep job again, and he is so young-looking and relatively inexperienced that I don't think he'll do much to balance Obama's ticket. I do like the idea of Clark, though some say he's not much of a campaigner.

    By Blogger Stephen, At 12 June, 2008 10:30  

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