Evaluating Hillary’s Short List For Running Mates
A purported 'short list' of potential running mates for Hillary Clinton is out. Here's how the candidates stack up.
Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal got its hands on what purports to be Hillary Clinton’s “short list” of potential Vice-Presidential running mates, and it includes Elizabeth Warren but not her opponent Bernie Sanders:
Hillary Clinton’s campaign isn’t considering primary rival Bernie Sanders as her running mate, but is actively looking at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose populist politics line up closely with Mr. Sanders, people familiar with the process said.
The vetting remains in its early stages. So far, potential candidates have been scrutinized using publicly available information. The Clinton team hasn’t asked anyone to submit tax returns or other personal information, one of the people said. Conversations with Mrs. Clinton herself about options are just now beginning.
Beyond the Massachusetts senator, other prospective candidates include Labor Secretary Tom Perez; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Cory Booker of New Jersey; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Reps. Xavier Becerra of California and Tim Ryan of Ohio, several Democrats said.
Asked Tuesday if she would consider Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Clinton told Telemundo, “I haven’t even begun to sort all that out.” She added, “There are a lot of really qualified, dynamic candidates, I’m sure, to be considered for vice president.”
The search process is being led by John Podesta, the campaign chairman. Longtime Clinton adviser Cheryl Mills also is an informal adviser.
Many Sanders supporters, disappointed by his failure to win the nomination, have held out hope that Mrs. Clinton would pick the Vermont senator in a show of unity and a signal that she will chart a progressive course if elected.
At a board meeting of Friends of the Earth Action last week that included senior Sanders advisers, several board members said Mr. Sanders should receive serious consideration as Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, said Erich Pica, president of the environmental group. Their argument, he said, was that he has brought ideas and energy to the debate.
Mrs. Clinton’s top priority is finding someone who is prepared to step in as president, she has said. She also is looking for a working partner who can help advance her agenda, and her advisers are less concerned with demographic and geographic factors, people familiar with the process said.
Some Sanders backers are encouraging her to pick someone from the more liberal wing of the party. “I would certainly encourage consideration of Bernie and other folks who represent the progressive side,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.), the only senator to back Mr. Sanders during the primary fight. Mr. Merkley also mentioned Ms. Warren and Mr. Brown.
Mrs. Clinton doesn’t feel pressured to go that route, since she already embraced such progressive positions as a large increase in the minimum wage and a plan to guarantee debt-free tuition at public universities, a senior strategist said.
Clinton officials said they’ve been impressed by Ms. Warren’s sharp critique of Republican Donald Trump, and they’ve made a point to highlight her endorsement along with those of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
The Clinton campaign has not denied that this list is genuine, and it does include a number of names that have been mentioned in the past, so we can assume for the sake of argument that it is genuine and that it was likely leaked deliberately by campaign insiders to test the waters on each of these names as part of the vetting process. As it stands, Clinton has apparently not set a deadline for making a selection, but one can assume that she will wait until after the Republican National Convention has finished and Donald Trump’s plans have been made clear before making a final decision. In the meantime, Dylan Matthews at Vox goes through the list with a detailed analysis of the pros and cons for each candidate, and while I disagree with him in some respects I think he largely gets the relative strengths, weaknesses, advantages, and disadvantages of each candidate about right.
The biggest news to come out of the list, of course, is the fact that Senator Elizabeth Warren is on the list while Senator Bernie Sanders is not. Notwithstanding whatever it is Sanders supporters may have hoped for, this is hardly surprising. For one thing, with the exception of John F. Kennedy picking Lyndon Johnson in 1960, Ronald Reagan picking George H.W. Bush in 1980, and John Kerry picking John Edwards in 2004 it has actually been quite uncommon in recent times for a Presidential nominee to select their chief primary challenger as their running mate. Part of the reason for this may be a desire to avoid the inevitable campaign commercial where the running mate’s attacks on the nominee during the primary are used against both of them in the fall, and part of it may just be the fact that the long primary rivalry makes it hard for either candidate to gel sufficiently in the way a unified campaign demands. In Sanders case, though, there’s also the fact that the Senator from Vermont is 73 years old, would be 74 by Inauguration Day, and 78 in 2020 when the Administration would be up for re-election. That, combined with the fact that it’s entirely unclear that Sanders has said he’s not interested in the position, would seem to be enough to explain why Sanders isn’t being considered as a running mate.
Notwithstanding all of that, there are some rather obvious reasons why Clinton might be interested in picking a running mate like Sanders for the fall campaign. If the past year has demonstrated anything, it is the fact that there is a split in the Democratic Party just as there is a split in the Republican Party. It may not be as deep or as bitter as the one created in the GOP by the Trump candidacy, but the race between Clinton and Sanders has shown that there is a split between the party “establishment,” which still has the support of most of the party, including important constituencies in the labor movement and among women, African-Americans, and Latino voters and the so-called “progressive” wing of the party that Sanders represents, which some contend will be the future of the Democratic Party. Whether that is the case or not, this wing of the party has certainly been important this year and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Given that, it arguably would be important for Clinton to reach out in the name of party unity, and there are few better ways to do that than via the selection of a running mate.
Taking all of that into account, if you’re not going to pick Sanders then the best available choice would be Elizabeth Warren. Not only is she as popular among this segment of the party as Sanders is, if not more so, but she was the subject of intense pressure to get into the Presidential race this year. Picking Warren would no doubt please the progressive wing of the party, and notwithstanding the fact that she is only three years younger than Clinton she does seem like someone who would be well-prepared to assume the Presidency in an emergency. Warren has also proven to be particularly effective as an ‘attack dog’ against Donald Trump. One argument against selecting Warren would be the fact that it would seemingly preclude the possibility of the Vice-President being an heir apparent for the third Presidency in a row given the fact that she would be 74 at the end of a two-term Clinton Presidency. Additionally, as Matthews notes, Warren has made many negative comments about Clinton in the past that could be used against the ticket, and selecting her would mean that, at least temporarily, one of the Senate seats from Massachusetts would be held by a Republican since her temporary successor would be picked by Republican Governor Charlie Baker. On balance, though, Warren is arguably the strongest name on the list and there’s likely to be a lot of pressure on Clinton to go with her.
Beyond Warren, the remaining names on the list break down into three groups.
The “Safe Choices” — Senators Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown
Tim Kaine’s name has been near the top of the names mentioned as a potential running mate for quite some time now, largely due to the fact that he serves as a Senator from Virginia and had previously served as Governor, having left that office with relatively high approval numbers. Before that, Kaine was reportedly also considered for the running mate slot by Barack Obama back in 2008 and had previously served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Given Virginia’s importance to the Electoral College fight between Clinton and Trump, he would be a relatively smart pick designed primarily to shore up Clinton’s support in Virginia. As far as negatives go, as Matthews notes Kaine is not a very engaging speaker on the stump and it is hard to see what help he could actually be outside of Virginia, where Clinton is strong already. Additionally, while Kaine is not anti-abortion per se his record on that issue is hardly ideal from a Democratic perspective, which could cause problems with women’s groups inside the Democratic tent. Despite this, picking Kaine would be a traditional “safe” running mate pick in that he’s unlikely to embarrass the ticket and, perhaps with the right preparation might be able to help with other states as well.
Sherrod Brown’s advantages are roughly the same as Kaine’s, namely the fact that he’s a relatively popular Senator from an important swing state. He is also among the only other prominent Democrats outside of Warren and Sanders that could appeal to the progressive wing of the party. Beyond that, though, it’s not clear that he ads much to the ticket beyond the fact that he represents Ohio in the Senate, although that should not be rejected out of hand. Like Kaine, he’s not the most engaging public speaker on the planet, and it’s hard to see what good he does the ticket outside of his home state. Additionally, Brown is long on the record as being an even bigger critic of the financial sector than Warren, which could be a problem when it comes to fund raising, and his position on international trade issues is one decidedly to the left of Clinton. All that being said, the geographic argument alone is enough to keep an eye on Brown for now.
The “Young Guns” — Senator Cory Booker and HUD Secretary Julian Castro
At 47 and 41 respectively, Booker and Castro are two names that have come up as potential running mates quite frequently for a number of reasons. For one, there are the obvious facts that Booker is African-American while Castro is Latino and the argument that picking either one of them could solidify the vote from those two important blocs going forward. The counter to that argument is that Clinton’s performance during the primary campaign shows that she has no problem getting both of these voting blocs to the polls in her own right, and that the candidacy of Donald Trump alone is likely to motivate minority voters to vote in November. Recent polling, for example, has shown that Trump’s unfavorable ratings among both groups is at or above 90% so it’s unclear that she needs to use the running mate slot to solidify support there. On the negative side, as Matthews notes, Castro clearly doesn’t seem to have the experience one would hope for in a potential Vice-President who could be charged with leading the nation on a moment’s notice. Prior to being named HUD Secretary, he served as Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, a relatively powerless position given the type of government that city has. Castro may be ready in a decade, but he’s not ready now. As for Booker, his chief negative seems to be the fact that he had a rather adversarial relationship with teacher’s unions when he was Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Whether that would really be a problem for Clinton, though, is unclear. One positive for either of these candidates is that it would be clear that Clinton was looking to select a candidate who could be an heir apparent in 2024, but that’s so far off it’s not clear that it’s really a factor.
The Long Shots — Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Congressman Tim Ryan, and Congressman Xavier Becerra
The last time that any Democratic nominee chose a candidate who hadn’t served in a statewide elected office was 1984 when Walter Mondale picked New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in a year when it was clear that the odds of winning were essentially non-existent. For Republicans, it was 2012, when Romney picked Paul Ryan and, before that, 1980 when Ronald Reagan picked George H.W. Bush, whose only elected experience was a stint in Congress in the 1960s. Both before and after that, the long history of running mates picked by both parties in the modern era largely consists of Senators and Governors who had been elected on a statewide basis. For that reason alone, these last three names have to be considered the longest of long shots. This would seem to be especially true of Labor Secretary Perez, whose only elected experience was a brief stint as a County Council Member in Montgomery County, Maryland. The two members of Congress seem to have a fairly decent record from a Democratic perspective, but not necessarily anything that sets them apart.
Anyway, that’s my evaluation of this purported ‘short list.’ Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments, or share other names you think Clinton ought to be considering.