Hillary Clinton for Vice President?

The Washington Post reports that Hillary Clinton “likely” will pull out of the presidential race on Saturday, at which time she will endorse Barack Obama. The Post also reports that Clinton has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Obama to select her as his running mate.

It’s easy to believe that Clinton would like to be on the ticket. She’s been campaigning like a fiend for a year and a half, and presumably does not want all that work to be for naught. Moreover, having essentially run a dead-heat with Obama, losing more as the result of quirks in the system than comparative lack of popularity, she reasonably believes she deserves no worse than the “second prize.” Unless she’s confident that Obama will lose (and such confidence would probably be misplaced), it makes plenty of sense for Clinton to seek that prize.

From Obama’s point of view, the calculus is less clear-cut. Clinton certainly meets the basic test for vice president — she’s qualified for the presidency and she bring something to the ticket in terms of electoral politics. Specifically, she brings liberal white women, many of whom are telling pollsters they don’t intend to vote for Obama (the extent to which they actually won’t vote for him is unclear).

On the other hand, Clinton is not the only potential choice who brings something to the ticket. The governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania might help him carry their key state. A female governor would help him with liberal women, though questions arise as to whether some of these potential running mates are qualified for the presidency. Jim Webb or Mark Warner might help Clinton carry Virginia while simultaneously appealing to centrist voters, and so on.

Moreover, these and other alternatives don’t carry the baggage Clinton does. Thus, they don’t risk alienating voters. Clinton does; specifically male independents and centrists. While her electoral plusses outweigh, I think, her electoral minuses, the minuses probably make her less than a compelling choice.

And if Clinton is not a compelling choice, the odds that Obama will select her are probably not great. It’s hard to imagine that Obama would enjoy the prospect of a Clinton vice presidency. (Bill Clinton’s old “two for the price of one” comment comes to mind). So if he sees attractive alternatives and believes he can win without Hillary, he’s likely to look elsewhere.

Clinton’s only way to make herself “compelling” may be to threaten to support Obama only in a token manner if she is excluded. My guess, though, is that Obama (who is running ahead or even with McCain in the polls) will conclude he can win with no more than token support from Clinton. Some have suggested that Obama will resist attempts by Clinton to strong arm her way onto the ticket for fear of seeming weak to voters. More likely, Obama will resist such attempts for fear of seeming weak to himself, or simply out of resentment over the undertaking.

UPDATE: Robert Novak cites a poll that shows McCain leading Obama by more than 10 percentage points among women. This result seems like an outlier — if McCain held this sort of lead among women, he wouldn’t be running neck-and-neck or behind Obama overall in most polls. However, if Obama’s own polling shows him doing this poorly with female voters, that might well affect his thinking when it comes to placing Clinton on the ticket.

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