Who Is The Best Running Mate For Kerry?
The latest CBS News Poll out today taken through yesterday shows Bush’s approval rating down to 47%, with now 44% disapproving of his performance. And for a guy whose ace in the hole has been personal favorability, it now looks like Bush will need all that $200 million just to rebuild a favorable image for himself while trashing Kerry. Why? Because in the same poll, Bush has his lowest favorability ratings (40%) since the months before 9/11.
The most notable item in this poll however is not the head-to-head matchup numbers, which will likely fluctuate much over the coming months. What are notable are the results of the head-to-head ticket matchups between a Kerry/Edwards ticket against the incumbents. Even though the head-to-heads for both Kerry and Edwards against Bush are dead heats in this poll, a Kerry/Edwards pairing beats Bush/Cheney by eight points (50%-42%), similar to a Newsweek Poll earlier in the week that showed a four-point lead (49%-45%) for a Kerry/Edwards ticket. (If this isn’t evidence that Cheney drags down the ticket, I don’t know what is.)
But these ticket matchup results raise two questions, one we asked before: 1) Even though it is way early still, doesn't an eight-point lead point out more Electoral College difficulties for Bush/Cheney than maybe we have been led to believe so far; and 2) Who makes the best running mate for John Kerry?
Conventional wisdom at this point focuses on Edwards, even though Joe Klein thinks that Edwards isn’t the best choice and shouldn’t assume he has the inside shot. He wouldn’t even carry his own state against Bush, while he is losing to Kerry in his own back yard of Georgia. Yet there are these poll results today in the CBS poll where he helps Kerry beat the incumbent ticket.
But is Edwards the best pairing for Kerry?
If Kerry wanted to make inroads into the South and gamble and go after several southern states like Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas, would Edwards be the best possible running mate to do that? Or would Kerry benefit more from adding Bob Graham or even John Breaux to the ticket for that purpose? One piece of conventional wisdom about running mates, aside from geographic and ideological balance, is that the second spot needs to be the attack dog and do the dirty work. Although he is a great trial lawyer, such a role doesn’t seem to be in the sunny Edwards’ makeup, and due to his dearth of experience he couldn't go after Cheney with gravitas. But Graham could fill that role and already has in attacking the administration over Iraq and 9/11. Graham is a snoozer in terms of charisma, but then so is Cheney to begin with. And the debates between those two would be worth staying home for, just to see how Graham would take Cheney apart on 9/11 and Iraq.
But what if Kerry did adopt an alternate strategy of forgetting about the South and concentrating instead on picking up Ohio, reacquiring West Virginia, and going after several states out west and in the Midwest with Missouri to start? Again, Gephardt is a good fit here in this strategy, and can definitely help out in Ohio and Arkansas, and would fill the attack role to some degree. But I am not sure how Gephardt would do against Cheney.
Now, if you are serious about the possibility of going around the South to focus on new targets or help with an ethnic group, then what about New Mexico governor Bill Richardson? Obviously, he would help bring along Hispanics and help retain his home state in Democratic hands, and possibly help make inroads elsewhere. And his experience and knowledge internationally is impressive and he is a great contrast to the dour Cheney. But would Richardson be able to slug it out when necessary? Then again, how about a fresh face like Virginia governor Mark Warner to possibly help grab his state out of the GOP column and add executive-level experience to the ticket? Unfortunately in this national security-dominated era, it is not known how a governor would fare against Cheney, but if anyone at the state level could handle Cheney and make a strong case for the Democrats it would be Warner.
In summary, Kerry will have many good choices for a running mate, with many other choices to make for cabinet spots. However, it is clear that this is not the year to gamble with a “history-making” pick, given how close this race will be. There should be no selections that have the slightest chance of costing more votes than they gain, and whoever is selected has to be able to help out geographically and go after the sorry record of this administration with gravitas and credibility.