Are Clinton Backers Undermining Sebelius as VP Choice?

by Randy Shaw on July 24, 2008

During a recent conference call on Barack Obama’s accepting the presidential nomination at Denver’s Invesco Field, reporters questioned whether Republicans would be permitted to attend the event. As DNC Chair Howard Dean tried to explain that Republicans would not be interested, Kathleen Sebelius – Kansas Governor and Convention Co-Chair – noted that Obama had attracted many Republicans and independents, and that these supporters would understandably want to attend. She gave such a strong response that Dean joked after another inquiry that he should let Sebelius answer that as well. With Jim Webb, Al Gore and Jack Reed all renouncing the vice-presidency, Sebelius’ media savvy should mean her stock is rising. But a July 20 New York Times story suggests that Sebelius’ selection as VP could create a “backlash” among Clinton’s female supporters, suggesting that these backers care more about Hillary Clinton’s career than women’s political advancement.

I wrote on May 12 that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius appeared to be Obama’s best choice for a running mate. My colleague Paul Hogarth argued a month later that Obama should pick a woman, specifically either Sebelius or Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill.

Since those pieces were written, three developments have occurred.

First, three talked about candidates—Jim Webb, Al Gore and Jack Reed—have publicly rejected the vice-presidential nomination. In addition, netroots favorite Wesley Clark made a gaffe about McCain’s qualifications, reducing his already slim chances of getting the nod.

Second, some progressives are criticizing Obama for allegedly moving to “the center,” and/or for running a too traditional campaign. Pundits are also claiming that Obama is running “not to lose,” bypassing the bold strokes that allegedly brought him his greatest success.

Sebelius’ selection, which would make her the first woman on a national ticket that was likely to win, is such a bold stroke. And she is more progressive than the Evan Bayh’s and Sam Nunn’s who have become favorites among the pundit class.

Third, while polls show Obama ahead of McCain in key “swing” states, they also show many former Hillary Clinton supporters still undecided about their commitment to the nominee. One would think that Sebelius’s choice would boost enthusiasm for Obama among these voters, unless their loyalty was not to the women’s movement but rather to Hillary Clinton personally.

Unfortunately, a July 20 story in the New York Times cites unnamed Democrats who believe that “if he bypasses Clinton, it would be difficult for him to name any woman.” These sources, described as “both Clinton and Obama advisors,” said that selecting Sebelius or another woman not named Clinton “could create a backlash among women who supported Mrs. Clinton.”

It is highly unlikely that anyone actually involved in the vice-presidential selection process would be leaking information to the media. And the term “Obama advisor” does not mean they have had any input in his choice of a running mate.

But it would not be surprising if “Clinton advisors” included some who do not have Obama’s best interests in mind. And they could be floating the idea of a women’s backlash against Obama as a means of increasing Hillary’s slim chances, or, more likely, of being able to say “I told you so” should he pick a male running mate.

Sebelius’s selection insulates Obama from charges that, by failing to choose Hillary Clinton, he has ignored women’s interests. It also potentially gives Sebelius national primacy over Clinton, whose backers prefer that she continue to be seen as the nation’s top female political leader (after all, Nancy Pelosi did not get 18 million votes).

Clinton backers may also be disparaging Sebelius to inflate the prospects of strong Clinton supporter, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh. Bayh’s conservative DLC background makes him the worst of all possible running mates, but if pleasing Clinton supporters becomes the test, he has the inside track.

McCain: Romney or Crist?

Since I wrongly predicted Mitt Romney to win the GOP presidential nomination—not recognizing that Mormons are not real popular among key sectors of the Christian right—I will not repeat my mistake by jumping on the increasingly popular Romney as VP bandwagon. Rather, two recent developments reaffirm my longtime pick – Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

First, the longtime bachelor (he was briefly married in his 20’s) has suddenly gotten engaged, and will quickly have one of those political marriages designed to eliminate rumors that a candidate is gay. Why bother with this charade if McCain is not interested in your selection?

Second, Obama is showing surprising strength in Florida. Crist’s selection would likely swing the state to McCain, who, unlike Obama, must take Florida to win.

Crist would also have the best tan in the history of vice-presidential candidates. This would create quite a striking contrast with the pasty white John McCain, leading the media to further tout the ticket’s balance.

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