Here’s a quick rundown of the many advantages the Democrats enjoy at this stage of the 2008 campaign. Voter turnout in most states is running well ahead of that for the GOP.
Democratic fund-raising continues to break all records—even those set previously by Republicans. The Democrats’ issues cupboard is fuller than it has been in a decade and a half. And voters have narrowed the field to two wildly popular candidates, either of whom would make history if nominated, much less elected.
Given the embarrassment of riches, it was only a matter of time before Democratic voters looked at the choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and asked the question, Why not both?
That idea had been on some voters’ minds even before the dream was made flesh two weeks ago in Los Angeles, where, at the end of the Kodak Theatre debate, Obama and Clinton smiled, embraced each other for more than the usual nanosecond and then seemed to whisper something knowing in each other’s ear.
After weeks of hand-to-hand combat and rumors of tiffs that may or may not have been real, the Hug rightly or wrongly got even more people thinking about the power of two.
Even if their act was dutiful, evanescent and faked for the cameras, party regulars seemed to eat it up. It was all there: the visionary and the technician, the candidate who could inspire the masses and the candidate who could get under the sink and fix the plumbing.
For Clinton, pairing with Obama would repair some of the damage with African Americans brought on by her campaign and, at least in theory, push her husband to the sidelines. Obama, in turn, would get a mechanic to match his magic, someone who could turn his poetry into governing prose.
A new TIME poll reveals that 62% of Democrats want Clinton to put Obama on the ticket; 51% want Obama to return the favor if he is the nominee. The party’s right brain and left brain, dancing together at last, right?
Unlikely Partners—for Now
Well, not exactly. It’s far too early to know if Obama and Clinton could work together, though there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. While the Clinton camp saw an opportunity in the general longing of the audience—Clinton fund raiser Terry McAuliffe said on the morning of Super Tuesday that Obama has generated so much excitement, he would have to be considered for the party’s vice-presidential nomination—the Obama people saw a trap.
If Obama and his aides lent any credence now to the dangled notion of a partnership, they know that some of his voters might peel off, thinking a vote for Clinton was, in effect, a twofer. And that could drive down Obama’s turnout. “We’re not running for Vice President,” said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs.
No, and as long as Obama has a real shot at the top spot, there’s no need to entertain the Veep talk. As a top Obama aide said, “That’s not where this campaign’s head is at.” Instead, the Obama camp had been expecting the Veep proffer for weeks, just as it had expected the Clinton campaign to play the race card after New Hampshire.
Obama headquarters was fully aware that the Clintons had badly overplayed their hand in the days leading up to South Carolina—so badly that Bill or Hillary would have to make some peace offering to Obama’s supporters, if not to Obama himself, to heal the breach. But forgiveness, while long a staple of the Clinton narrative, isn’t something the Obama team is ready to embrace.
An Obama adviser put it this way: “One could argue that the Senator should not even agree to discuss an offer of the vice presidency until Senator Clinton agrees to bar her husband from the West Wing for the duration of the first term. And then once she agrees to that, he should turn it down.”
More to the point, is the job of Vice President to a Clinton worth having? Al Gore learned that being No. 2 to Bill was really more like being No. 3 after you factored in Hillary, who had an office in the West Wing and a larger suite of rooms down the hall from the Veep in the Old Executive Office Building. Gore watched his priorities often take a backseat to hers in the first term—and his future run aground as they fought successfully to avoid impeachment and conviction.
While she joked with David Letterman on his show that there is no doubt “who wears the pantsuits” in her house, there is little doubt that the Clintons intend to work as a team if Hillary is elected. “I’ll be there, talking her through everything,” Bill said in Napa Valley, Calif., last month, “like she did with me.” One unaligned party wise man said, “Obama may look at the Clintons, at both of them—at that whole thing they have—and say, ‘Jeez, that’s just way too [messed] up to be a part of. That’s just no place I want to be.'”
If Obama becomes the nominee, the arguments against teaming with the Clintons might be even stronger.Obama’s defining issue in the race is not health care or the economy or even the war, where he is most distinct from his rival. It’s about being new and different and not from the past; in short, about not being a Clinton.
For months he has attacked Clinton for taking money from lobbyists, for flimflamming voters on her war votes and for playing race and gender cards when she fell behind. To reverse all that and join forces with the Clintons would be seen as a huge betrayal of his most galvanizing argument—as well as his character—by many of his followers. The numbers back this up.
In Time’s poll, 58% of Clinton backers favor bringing Obama onto the ticket; nearly the same percentage (56%) of Obama supporters favor choosing someone else.
The Shadow of History
It would be wrong to suggest that the pro-Obama sentiment is universal inside the Clinton camp. It isn’t difficult to find those allied with Clinton who believe that Obama would make an underwhelming vice-presidential nominee. Clinton, they say, will want an attack dog both on the trail and as Vice President—a role Obama is ill suited for and uncomfortable assuming. Plus, the states he could deliver she could win on her own.
But what really worries Clinton loyalists is that Obama lacks their, well, loyalty. Running her campaign are a host of aides who have worked for the Clintons before, been fired or been kicked aside and yet keep coming back, decade after decade, to help. That’s how the Clintons define loyalty. That pattern may explain why there are those in Clintonland who think Obama has wronged her over the course of the campaign simply because he took her on.
Against all the mutual animus and anger, however, stands a lot of history. And history suggests a deal later is possible, if not likely, whatever the insiders may think now. More often than not, winners in both parties reach out to losers—or at least contemplate an overture—when the time comes to put a broken party back together. John Kennedy tapped Lyndon Johnson in 1960, though the two men were like oil and water. Ronald Reagan named George H.W. Bush in 1980, though they never became very close.
Walter Mondale gave a man he resented, Gary Hart, a good look in 1984, before choosing Geraldine Ferraro. And John Kerry recruited his former rival John Edwards in 2004, though the hard feelings on both sides never went away. Whoever wins these primaries may have no choice but to offer it to the also-ran.
So perhaps it is wisest now to think of the Democratic primary campaign not as one race but two: the one for the delegates and the other for reconciliation. We will probably know who wins the delegate race before school is out. But it might be late summer before the parleys and the peacemaking that lead to a partnership get under way. A lot can happen in six months. The party’s fortunes could dim; the hard feelings could soften. And by August, who knows? There is no telling what a Democratic nominee will need in a running mate—and vice versa.
* By Michael Duffy Wednesday, Feb. 06, 2008