By Scott Tibbs, June 5, 2008
There has been a lot of talk about the Democratic Party running a "unity" ticket this fall, with Hillary Clinton serving as the vice presidential candidate alongside Barack Obama. For several reasons, It would be in Obama's best interest to resist the pressure to do this and pick someone else.
First, you do not want the candidate for vice president to overshadow the candidate for president. The fact that Clinton won the popular vote will be much more prominent if she were to be Obama's running mate, leaving opportunities for second-guessing the order of the ticket. In addition to Clinton's own status within the party, having her on the ticket will place former President Bill Clinton on the stage as well, meaning that Obama will have to share the stage with both Clintons.
There is a lot of talk about presidential campaigns having geographic balance, and Clinton does not bring anything to the table in that regard. Obama will win New York anyway, and probably most (if not all) of the New England states. Obama needs to shore up areas where he is weak, specifically in foreign policy experience and with rural white voters. Someone like former Senator Sam Nunn (a conservative Democrat from Georgia) would help in southern states and would balance the ticket ideologically.
Clinton will also motivate the conservative activist base to work against the Obama campaign. The Clintons are strongly disliked by Republicans, and there is enough baggage left over from the 1990's to give John McCain an advantage. Obama's own ideological leanings will provide motivation enough for many Republicans, and adding Clinton will only serve to strengthen that motivation. Having Clinton on the ticket would convince some Republicans who are prepared to stay home or vote for a third party candidate like Bob Barr reason to hold their noses and vote for McCain. Adding Clinton to the ticket would also undercut Obama's primary message of setting a new tone for politics and leaving the divisiveness of the past behind.
Another problem with adding Clinton to the ticket is that this is Obama's campaign, not Clinton's. Obama needs to put his own stamp on this campaign and make this a contest between him and McCain. Having Clinton alongside would be a distraction, and if the conventional wisdom is that Obama was forced to add Clinton (which many people are going to think) Obama is going to appear weak. I also do not think Clinton will be satisfied with being vice president. Obama is going to need to choose someone who he can work with over the next four years, and having Clinton as his vice president could undermine him.
While this campaign has certainly been heated, I am not convinced that the Democrats are as divided as some think. The War in Iraq will again be a motivating factor for many Democrats, and Obama's own personal charisma makes many of his supports want to vote for him, not just against McCain. I suspect that Obama will have little difficulty getting Democrats to rally behind him, especially as this contest increasingly becomes between him and McCain and we move farther away from the primary contest.