Obama – Clinton joint ticket highly possible regardless

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Fans of Evan Bayh, the clean-cut senator for Indiana, are hoping today will be the day he is selected as Barack Obama’s vice-presidential running mate. They are likely to be disappointed.

By Edward Luce in Youngstown, Ohio

Although the two senators will be campaigning together in Indiana – a traditionally Republican state that the Obama campaign is targeting in November – the audition process still has at least 10 days to run.

Obama officials say privately it is unlikely a running mate will be selected before the candidate returns from a week’s holiday in Hawaii, which starts this Friday. That leaves about 10 days until the start of the Democratic party convention in Denver.

In spite of ever more feverish speculation about who Mr Obama is likely to choose – Hillary Clinton having made a comeback in the past few days – the decision is unlikely to be leaked. In addition to Michelle Obama, the candidate’s inner circle consists of just three people: David Axelrod, his senior strategist, David Plouffe, his campaign manager, and Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser.

All three are intensely loyal and discreet Obama professionals. “It doesn’t go much beyond this circle,” says a senior Obama staffer. “Others may be consulted on a case-by-case basis. But only the Davids and Robert are always inside the circle.”

It is even unclear whether Mr Obama has yet whittled his choice down to a shortlist. But a straw poll of Obama staff members and Democrats close to the campaign suggests that five or six names recur. Each is deemed capable of helping to neutralise one or more of Mr Obama’s perceived weaknesses: inexperience, lack of national security credentials, the perception that he is aloof and his poor record of winning over blue-collar voters in swing states of the rust belt.

All are evaluated principally on their ability to help Mr Obama win in November, as opposed to the contributions they might make to an administration. In addition, good personal chemistry is essential. Mr Bayh is one of the most credible. A former governor of Indiana, he has the executive experience and mainstream credentials that many believe would help blunt voters’ doubts about Mr Obama’s relatively thin curriculum vitae and what some call his “exotic” background.

Mr Bayh, whose father, Birch Bayh, was a presidential candidate in the 1970s, was also a strong supporter of Mrs Clinton. But unlike other Clinton surrogates – including her husband Bill, who still appears unable to offer an unequivocal endorsement of Mr Obama – Mr Bayh did not overstep the mark in his attacks on Mr Obama.

Against Mr Bayh is the widespread feeling that he may be a little too bland.

Then there is Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia, who had the distinction of being the first outside Mr Obama’s home state of Illinois to endorse him. That, and the fact that Virginia has gone from being a Republican stronghold to a potential swing state, gives Mr Kaine a strong claim. But, like Mr Obama, Mr Kaine has no national security credentials. And he is relatively unknown on the national stage.

The same cannot be said of Jo Biden, the long-running senator for Delaware, former presidential candidate and – most importantly – chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. Few would question Mr Biden’s grasp of national security. And nobody would accuse him of inexperience. But the voluble senator has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth.

At the start of the campaign he was forced to apologise after he praised Mr Obama for being the first “clean” and “articulate” “mainstream African-American” to run for the office. “Biden would make an appropriate secretary of state,” said one Democratic consultant close to the campaign. “As a running mate he might be a risk.”

Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas and one of the foremost women in Democratic politics, would present another kind of risk. Although Ms Sebelius would bring both Midwestern credentials and executive experience to the ticket, her selection could alienate supporters of Mrs Clinton, many of whom are still smarting over what they see as her mistreatment by the Obama campaign. “If Obama is going to choose a woman, that leaves just one choice,” says a former Clinton adviser.

Asked whether Mrs Clinton is a possibility, Mr Obama says she would be on anybody’s shortlist. But Obama staffers struggle to contain their incredulity when asked if the prospect is likely. In practice, almost nobody will know whom Mr Obama is going to select until he announces it. And that could be someone “from left field”, as one Obama staffer puts it.

Potential “left fielders” include Chuck Hagel, the dissident Republican senator, Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator for Georgia, and Chet Edwards, a centrist Democratic congressman from Texas. “I guess Hillary would be from left field,” said the staffer. “Don’t rule anything out.”

The Financial Times

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