Time for an experiment. This is an attempt to discuss the Democratic veep story with nary a direct mention of Her. There are reports that She would very much like to be Barack Obama's running mate, just as there are reports that She would not. There is press speculation that She would be a great choice, just as there is speculation that She would not - if only because He would again elbow his way into the limelight and say something really stupid. And of course many Democrats are grumbling that She and He are happy to hear all this veep talk (some of which they are orchestrating via surrogates), if only because it feeds their narcissistic needs.
Shocking as this may sound, given the saturation attention being paid over the past 36 hours to what She might "want," Obama in his quest for a running mate actually has a whole range of personnel options. Amazingly, there are other names on the Democratic roster. Let's give this a try:
Jim Webb. He's worth a whole column. A former Navy Secretary under Ronald Reagan, currently a senator from new swing-state Virginia, he could add much-needed national-security ballast to the ticket. He could help draw the white guys that Democratic candidates rarely attract in sufficient numbers. And as an ex-Marine who opposes the Iraq war, he could underscore Obama's point that dissent is a hallmark of patriotism. On the other hand, he might be a problem for some female voters, if only because, as Navy secretary, he was sometimes cool to the idea of women in the military.
Bill Richardson. A seasoned guy - two Cabinet positions, U.N. ambassador, troubleshooting foreign negotiator, plus congressional experience. Plus his current gig as a successful governor of New Mexico, an '08 swing state. Plus, he's Hispanic, and Obama needs help with Hispanics. Plus, he might fit the Obama strategy of contesting a number of western states, including Colorado and Nevada. Potential downside? As evidenced by his '08 primary season flameout, he might not be so hot on the stump. Also, those Democrats still in thrall to Him and Her view Richardson as a turncoat.
Wesley Clark. Like Webb, the retired Army general and former NATO commander could buttress Obama's national-security creds. Plus, he's from Her camp, so picking him could be viewed as a symbolic bid to reunite the party. Problem is, Clark has very little political experience, and he was shaky during his truncated '04 presidential bid. We still remember the time when he panicked while being questioned by reporters, and his response was to call out to his press secretary, "Help me, Mary!"
Kathleen Sebelius. She's the two-term Democratic governor of red-state Kansas, which should tell us something about her ability to win over Republicans. She was an early Obama supporter who might fit Obama's bid to expand the electoral map (if not in Kansas, then at least in more winnable red states). Plus, she might appeal to Democrats who share her gender. Plus, as the daughter of a former Ohio governor, she has hard-wired political instincts. But the downside is obvious: she can't give Obama any help on the national security front.
Claire McCaskill. She shares many of Sebelius' attributes, notably gender and red-state geography. A first-term senator, she hails from pivotal Missouri, which twice voted for George W. Bush. She has been good on national TV all year, flying the Obama banner. She's also Catholic, and white Catholics are expected to be a swing group this year (as always). But she too has scant national-security experience - and she has logged even less time than Obama on the national stage, having ascended to the Senate only 17 months ago.
Evan Bayh. Similar to Clark in several respects (emissary from Her camp, lots of national security experience), and to Sebelius and McCaskill in other respects (red-state pedigree, having won landslide elections in Indiana both as governor and as current senator). Aside from his deep seasoning as a public official, he's a low-key guy whose personality seems ideal for the number-two job. Obama would be in no danger of being overshadowed. Downside? He's a low-key guy on the campaign stump, too. It's more exciting to hear somebody read the phone book.
Joe Lieberman. Just wanted to see if you're still awake.
Joe Biden. Great national security creds, having logged much of his 36 Senate years on the Foreign Relations Committee. Not everybody bought into his proposal for a "soft partition" of Iraq, but he's one of the rare pols who has tried to think creatively about salvaging the disaster. But Biden rarely resists the opportunity to utter 500 words when only 50 would suffice, and the more loquacious he gets, the more he risks misspeaking - and then explaining at length what he meant to say. At minimum, that could be an autumn liability.
Sam Nunn. The ex-Georgia senator gave up his seat a decade ago, which might be an asset if Obama is looking to pair himself with somebody who is "above politics," somebody who left Washington because he could no longer abide the partisan sniping. He's also still known as one of the nation's foremost military and foreign affairs experts. But he'll be 70 at his next birthday, and in the charisma department he makes Bayh look like Bono.
Ted Strickland. The governor of swing-state Ohio has an asset rarely seen in popular Democrats: He's a former Methodist minister. He could arguably help Obama narrow the "God gap" that has hurt Democratic presidential candidates among church-going voters; indeed, Obama has more than occasionally talked about faith. Maybe Strickland could help vet Obama with the fact-averse voters who still think Obama is a Muslim. On the other hand, Strickland too has that national security deficit, and it's generally a fallacy that running mates can help swing their home states; witness John Edwards and North Carolina in 2004.
The latter point also applies to Tom Vilsack, the popular ex-governor of Iowa. Ditto, Nunn, who says himself that his state of Georgia has trended too far red to be in play this autumn. And Obama can probably win Pennsylvania regardless of whether Ed Rendell joins the ticket or simply works the state for Obama in his current gubernatorial capacity.
There it is, an entire veep discussion - absent any focus on Her. See how easy that was?