If, as I have argued relentlessly that he should, Barack Obama decides that an established reputation for national security and foreign policy expertise is a prerequisite for any potential running-mate, the question then becomes: Who passes the test?
Tim Kaine, eight years removed from a then-weak mayoralty and just 32 months removed from a lieutenant governor’s office, clearly doesn’t. (Maybe this is why, besides today’s two-weeks-too-late New York Times profile, the Kaine chatter has mostly vanished, especially after Russian tanks rolled into Georgia.) Neither does Kathleen Sebelius, who’s also seen as one of Obama’s personal favorites. If Obama were now leading John McCain by ten points, it’d probably be fair to assume he’d pick one of these governors. But he’s not.
Evan Bayh, with ten years in the Senate (where he sits on the Armed Services Committee) would bring some national security credibility. And if he could ever bring his home state of Indiana along too, that alone might make Obama the next President. But how reassuring would Bayh really be to most Americans? He’s not a veteran, he looks young, and he lacks a forceful presence – would hesitant voters really feel more comfortable with Obama by looking at and listening to Bayh?
Jack Reed may be less physically imposing than Bayh (he’s 5’-7”) and just as bland on television, but he has a compelling story: A West Point graduate who went on to serve in the 82nd Airborne Division (and later to teach at his alma mater), he is a military man through and through. He also has visited Iraq more than any other senator, on trips that have included limited-to-non-existent press coverage. Whereas the media would probably treat Bayh as a politician with some military knowledge, Reed would almost certainly be presented by the press more as a veteran and military/foreign policy expert who is also a politician. This would probably be more beneficial to Obama. On the down side, Reed comes from the most Democratic state in the most Democratic region of the country, so he’d add nothing geographically, and he’s so subdued and anonymous that his selection might cause more yawns than anything.
Joe Biden’s foreign policy and national security credentials are well known, and few Democrats are better when it comes to engaging the opposition in substantive debates on these topics. As an older Irish-Catholic man with roots in working-class Pennsylvania, Biden also fits the rough profile of a certain type of voter Obama may be struggling to connect with. He could do exceedingly well in the vice-presidential debate and his extensive experience (36 years in the Senate) and command of national security minutia could plausibly provide the final nudge that Obama needs with voters who are inclined to support him but worried about his seasoning. On the down side is Biden’s notorious habit of talking his way into hot water. Notably, he’s been very quiet these past few weeks. Also, is there any personal chemistry between Obama and Biden? It really didn’t seem that way during the Democratic primaries.
After that, who else is there? Sam Nunn would be celebrated by the media for his “gravitas,” but his name seems to have disappeared from the Veepstakes. An oversight on the media’s part? Or was he never really a contender? Chuck Hagel was probably a fantasy. I heard Chris Dodd’s name the other night, but surely Obama wouldn’t take on Dodd’ Countrywide baggage. Hillary Clinton would provide exactly the reassurance Obama needs – but there’s still no way he’d pick her, right?
It seems like Obama might be feeling some tension. His personal preference is probably a fresh-faced, non-Washington figure, like Kaine or Sebelius. But with the race so close, can he really afford politically to go in that direction? But if he looks in the other direction and pursues a respected foreign policy graybeard, does he really have any options that he’d be comfortable with?