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Column: Where Do The Dems Go From Here?

This story was written by Clay A. Dumas,

Certainly there are Hillary supporters who are transmuting their ardor for her presidential candidacy into a desire to see her round out the Democratic ticket. But Hillary is not trying to muscle her way onto the ticket. Surely if she wanted the vice-presidential nomination, endorsing Obama sooner rather than later is the order of the day.

Even more to the point: Obama will choose his running mate on his own terms, and intruding on his decision will only backfire. Is there much prospect for an Obama-Clinton ticket? There are two considerations: How would it affect the election and how would it affect an Obama administration?

The first reaction one hears from many commentators and diehard Obama-ites is that the selection of Hillary would deflate his base and tarnish him with two decades worth of Clinton history. However, if choosing a running mate is all it would take to deflate Obamas support or image, then he isnt the successor to JFK and Reagan that so many hope he can be (the two big charisma kings chose the distinctly un-charismatic Lyndon B. Johnson and George H.W. Bush as their running mates).

Because of her peculiar base of support, Hillary currently does better in general election match-ups against John McCain than Obama does. To be sure, its virtually impossible to predict how voters will feel about the candidates in November. After all, even a month and half before the Democratic primaries kicked off, Hillary was leading in South Carolina and in 24 of 25 Super Tuesday states. Nevertheless, were now in June and there is a lot of mileage on this campaign. People really know Obama, Hillary, and McCain, and a case can be made that the general election will never reach the intensity of the primaries weve just been through. By this point, its definitely food for thought that in key swing states Ohio and Pennsylvania, Hillary beats McCain decisively in polls, and enjoys a moderate six to seven point lead over McCain in Florida. Obama, by contrast, has tenuous leads in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and hardly competes in Florida. And in North Carolina, a state whose primary Obama won handily, its Hillary whos in striking distance to McCain, not Obama.

Democrats have a lot to be optimistic about. We have a tremendous fund-raising advantage, weve enjoyed far higher participation rates in the primaries (theres a correlation between primary and general election participation), and the Republican Party is profoundly unpopular.

Yet, it should be disconcerting that Barack still doesnt have a clear edge in the polls, and that efforts to re-brand McCainwho nearly left the Republican party several years ago and has an extensive record of introducing bipartisan legislationas George W. Bush 2.0 have gained no traction. Bolstering the ticket with the candidate who gained the support of the demographic segments that stubbornly eluded Obama in the primaries will almost certainly be a positive in November.

Chemistry on the campaign trail? Prior to his announcement that he would run, there was, by all reports, a good personal relationship between Hillary and Obama, and to the extent that it thereafter deteriorated, it mostly came from her end. Obama kept his cool throughout and appears to have genuine respect for her. Considering the duration and the intensity of the contest, her attacks against him have been mild by historical standards.

Would Obamas message of change be sullied by her involvement? Any running mate will be chosen to give Obama national security credentials and/or bolster his support with Hillarys base, and will almost certainly be older and more associated with the establishment.


The bottom line is that the primaries were a virtual tie however you slice and dice the popular vote. The two leading Democrats, while extremely close on policy, had the visceral support of distinct segments of the population. Obama won because he had the best ground game. He ran the better campaign in relation to raising money and obtaining the support of delegates. Also, in what was partly a generational conflict, he represented the younger generation, always a plus. Yet, although he has had a significant fundraising advantage since before the primaries began and was anointed the presumptive nominee as early as February when he won eight primaries in a row, he has made scant progress with Hillarys half of the electorate. Maybe hes Saint Francis Assisi, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan rolled into one and wont need any help with any segment of the population going into the fall. But the available evidence is that the Reagan Democrat has had qualms about voting for Democratic presidential candidates since 1968, votes his or her pocketbook, not some ideological vision, and isnt yet sold on Obama in spite of six months of the most intense campaigning this country has ever seen. Choosing Hillary would be an insurance policy against the possibility Obamas support will not grow beyond his base.

How about once an Obama/Clinton team took office? One can argue about whether Hillary would be too independent and conspicuous, diminishing Obamas authority. This is a legitimate concern, particularly with Bill Clinton lurking in the background, but I am not as worried as others that Hillary wouldnt know how to play her role appropriately. She showed incredible discipline in fitting into her position in the Senate. As for Bill, while he might have been a weird presence in a Hillary presidency, why indication is there that he intrude any more into her Vice-Presidency than he has into her Senate career.

More importantly, what would the effect of having Hillary inside the administration be on Obamas ability to lead? The next administration is going to have to make some difficult choices on matters affecting its core constituencies. There is looming generational conflict about health care reform and entitlement spending. Hispanics and working class whites and blacks are likely to have varying perspectives on immigration reform. Well-traveled, tech-savvy young college graduates are going to view globalization and international environmental crises a little differently from laid-off manufacturing workers in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Im not suggesting that a President Clinton would deal with these issues all that differently from President Obama. What I am suggesting is that Clinton already has the trust of segments of the electorate that may vote for Obama in November but may never warm to him. Inside the administration she may have the capacity to reassure key segments of the Democratic coalition on potentially divisive issues. Outside the administration, she will be like any politician: Her traditional base will look to her to protect their interests and she will respond accordingly. The future is hard to predict, but the very serious problems this country faces hold much potential for new and significant fissures in the body politic. A unified Democratic ticket is the best insurance for holding the country together.

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