Holding Off Until Convention May be Best V.P. Strategy for Obama

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When it comes to Barack Obama" class="company-link">Barack Obama’s running-mate search, the question of “when?” is now being asked just as often as “who?”

The Politico is reporting that Obama’s decision is expected this week – but that it also might come “as late as this weekend,” or even “the beginning of next week” at the Democratic convention. Which doesn’t really narrow it down at all. Marc Ambinder, meanwhile, notes that Obama is scheduled for a down day in Chicago this Friday and that “Democratic advance folks are being called to Chicago,” suggesting an end-of-week announcement could be in the works. Or maybe not.

It’s worth noting that the last time a VP choice was announced during a convention was in 1988, when George H. W. Bush tapped Dan Quayle on the second day of the G.O.P.’s New Orleans gathering. Maybe that’s a bad omen for convention-week announcements, but a decent case can be made that Obama would be well served by holding off until Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Basically, doing so would allow him to reassert some control over the images and messages coming out of Denver in the early part of next week. As of now, Michelle Obama is set to speak on Monday night – but will she be overshadowed by what should be an emotional tribute to Ted Kennedy, complete with a pre-taped address from the senator himself? And even though Virginia’s Mark Warner is technically the keynote speaker, Tuesday night will belong to Hillary Clinton – all day and night, expect the media to rehash the Democratic primary campaign and to fixate on the various gripes, misgivings, and hang-ups that her supporters have about Obama. And while he’ll speak before the 10 o’clock hour, Bill Clinton’s Wednesday night address – will he actually say Obama is ready to be president?! – could actually steal some of the thunder from Obama’s own running mate, who will formally accept the nomination that night.

But if Obama’s running mate is unresolved when the convention opens, the guessing game would create a significant diversion for the otherwise Hillary-obsessed media. Instead of devoting most of their airtime to theoretical questions about whether Clinton voters might abandon the party in the fall, the press would be forced to invest considerable time and effort covering the VP mystery (something they rather enjoy doing anyway). If Obama were then to announce his pick on Tuesday, it would easily match Clinton’s speech in the coverage it received – and create immediate suspense for the VP nominee’s Wednesday night speech, thus diminishing the build-up for Bill Clinton’s address.

Of course, there’s obvious backfire potential to this – that Clinton’s delegates will take it as a slap in the face, an effort to deny them and their candidate their moment in the sun. Plus, it would give them less time to acclimate themselves to the reality of a non-Hillary VP nominee, creating the possibility of an ugly scene on the floor when the VP is formally nominated – or during his or her acceptance speech. It might be better for Obama to roll out his choice this Friday, let the Clinton delegates vent their frustrations, and hope it will have blown over by next week.

There is one other factor to keep in mind: If Obama does go to the convention without a VP pick, it might also be a sign that Clinton is under consideration. It’s long been obvious that Obama will only entertain the idea of picking her if a confluence of harsh political realities forces him to. Presumably, if such a situation were developing, he’d wait until the very last minute before pulling the trigger on a Clinton selection, just to make certain that he really has no other choice.


Holding Off Until Convention May be Best V.P. Strategy for Obama