Choosing New Vice Presidential Running Mate Could Help, Hurt Obama

COMMENTARY | San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown made the prediction that President Barack Obama would choose a new vice presidential running mate for 2012, possibly moving current Vice President Joe Biden to the State Department.

The prediction has a ring of plausibility. Biden has been somewhat of an embarrassment as vice president, prone to gaffes and pretty much the butt of jokes around political circles. Of course, that fact would mitigate against moving him to another high profile job, such as Secretary of State.

The idea of switching vice presidents is not unprecedented. Franklin Roosevelt did it twice. Gerald Ford, who served with Nelson Rockefeller in his unelected term in office, chose to run with then-Senator Bob Dole in 1976.

The question arises, who would Obama pick? Previous speculation has concerned Hillary Clinton. Brown thinks it would be Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York. Cuomo is certainly young and dynamic and, while liberal, is willing to stand up to left wing interest groups from time to time. But Obama has two considerations for choosing a vice president.

First, will his choice help or hurt his chances in 2012? That, sadly for Obama, who has slipped in the polls, is a prime consideration. That would suggest an office holder from a state Obama must win, such as Ohio, Florida, or Wisconsin. If that person could be a Hispanic, part of the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, which is still up for grabs by both parties, then so much the better.

Second, by choosing a running mate, Obama may be choosing his Democratic successor. No matter what happens in 2012, unless the person is an elder statesman or woman, Obama’ s 2012 running mate would be the front runner for 2016.

Much will depend on Obama’s criteria. It is a given that the president will want someone who is at least as liberal as he is in order to carry on what remains of his legacy. But a too-liberal running mate would become a drag on the ticket. The usual strategy is to try to establish some ideological balance between the president and vice president.

If Obama goes this route, he will have succeeded in shaking up the 2012 race to a certain extent. Vice presidential picks can do that, as both Walter Mondale and John McCain found out when they chose women politicians to run with them. But they can also be detrimental, as George H. W. Bush found out with the unfairly maligned Dan Quayle.

Sources: Da Mayor Says Obama Will Get a New Veep, Sajid Farook, NBC News, April 21, 2011

Joe Biden – Brussels ‘Capital of the Free World’, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, May 24, 2010

A Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton Ticket in 2012? Joe Biden to the State Department? Mark R. Whittington, October 6, 2010