My recent suggestion, acting in the guise of a partisan Democrat, that Hillary Clinton should challenge President Obama for the party nomination, generated a huge amount of traffic and prompted debate across the blogosphere (see here and here and here and here). Even the French joined the debate. The comments to that and a follow up post continue coming in. Many of you are suggesting that rather than challenge the President and risk splitting the party, the better option would be for Obama to put Clinton on the ticket as vice president, with Biden moving over to State or to some other position. That possibility has gained media traction in recent days (see here and here and here) in light of the growing signs that Obama is electorally vulnerable. In considering this option, I have one crucial question:
What’s in it for Clinton?
I understand the upside for the President. Right now – and no one can project how things will look a year from now – but right now I would put his odds at winning reelection at less than 50%. In the wake of the debt deal, continued volatility in the stock market, and the hammering he took in the Republican debate in Iowa, his approval ratings have fallen 10% since June to about 40%, the lowest of his presidency, and they could very well go lower. No president has won reelection with approval ratings this low.
In contrast, Hillary has seen her popularity climb above 60% after almost three years as Obama’s Secretary of State. By putting Clinton on the ticket, Obama supporters hope that he might benefit on the campaign trail from her higher approval ratings, particularly among key constituencies, including older women and white working class voters among which his support his weak. Moreover, the argument goes, she is more likely than Obama to attract independent voters.
If we look at the electoral map there’s roughly a dozen states totaling some 155 electoral votes that will likely be in play in 2012. Among them are the big three of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida – all states in which Clinton bested Obama in 2008, and in which his popularity lags today. Again, it’s possible that her stronger support in these states among independents and working class voters might bolster his electoral chances.
Finally, Clinton would “neutralize” the gender issue should the Republican nominee be Palin or Bachmann, or if either of those two women were on the Republican ticket as the vice president. And she would easily best them in a V.P. candidate debate.
But even if we buy these arguments – and longtime readers know that I am skeptical that vice presidential choices have much electoral impact – I still see no upside for Clinton. Obama supporters say it will put her in line to make a run for the presidency in 2016. But she’s already at the top of the Democrat candidate list – why would serving as Obama’s “lady in waiting” for four years bolster her political profile? And that assumes Obama wins reelection. If he loses, after she dives into the political mud on his behalf in a failed political campaign, she could emerge considerably weaker. And she has to then defeat an incumbent Republican.
It seems to me that the Hillary-for-VP argument is being driven by Obama’s interests, not hers. Indeed, if the argument that her presence would strengthen the Democratic ticket is as strong as Obama’s supporters claim it is, it leads inevitably to one conclusion: she should be heading that ticket.
And the only way to do that is if Obama steps down – or if she challenges him for the Democratic nomination.
But, I already said that.