Veepstakes

Barack Obama is expected to announce his Vice Presidential pick any day now, and John McCain won’t be far behind. And, as usual, the discussion turns to which member of each candidate’s short list best complements the ticket best by shoring up the top candidate’s weaknesses. But is that the best strategy? I’m not so sure.

In 1992, Bill Clinton – a younger, southern politician – tapped then-Senator Al Gore – a younger southern politician – as his running mate. Despite questions about experience (particularly in international affairs) and regional appeal, Clinton picked Gore instead of balancing out a ticket with an “elder statesman” figure.

It worked because Gore helped establish the tickets political brand identity – the youthful Clinton was the first “Baby Boomer” president, coming into office with promises of change. Both Obama and McCain would be wise to keep this example in mind.

A “safe” pick for Obama might look good on paper, but if the junior Senator from Illinois is serious about selling “new politics” then the Democrats’ usual suspects may not help. A “safe” Vice Presidential nominee concedes that Obama’s inexperience makes him an unsafe Presidential nominee. An offbeat, non-traditional, or historic pick underscores the message of change Obama and his campaign have been parroting since the primaries.

John McCain must also consider his brand and that of his party and pick someone off-beat and historic. The GOP torch McCain carries has dimmed since its brightest days in the elections of 2002 and 2004. Win or lose, the Democrat’s rhetoric of change threatens to reverberate beyond this election and position both parties for 2010 and 2012. A young, vibrant and/or historic Republican Vice Presidential pick would establish revolutionary politics as a force without party or ideology. More importantly, it would give grassroots Republican activists a new and exciting face to rally behind.

If I was advising the candidates, I’d suggest two women Governors: Democrat Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Republican Sarah Palin of Alaska. They may not help electorally (neither Kansas nor Alaska figures to be in play), but they would eachfoster excitement among the core activists each candidate will need for victory in November.

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