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Ever since Sarah Palin’s meteoric rise into political stardom, political junkies left and right have speculated that Team Obama could dump Joe Biden (due to some unfortunate family issue like Joe’s emerging pro-life stance) and replace him with Hillary Clinton. Think of it as second life for Rush Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos which extended the Democrat Nomination fight right up to mid-June.
Let’s explore what that scenario might do to the race.
The polls now show McCain up by 10 among likely voters. If the polls continue to trend this way, Obama will have to take drastic action to shake things up. But he doesn’t have much time.
The Vice Presidential Debate is October 2 in St. Louis, Missouri. Obama would have to make the switch before this event, since people will use this forum to make final or near-final decisions on the VP qualifications. Biden could be a liability at the event, as he’s prone to embarrassing gaffes, particularly under pressure. Moreover, Clinton would be able to after Palin in ways that Biden could not.
The Clintons are a shrewd political enterprise. For Hilary to deign to be the number two number two, she and her husband would require two major assurances: a) certain victory in November and b) and appointment for Bill of Bill’s choosing.
Clinton’s own strategists would have to convince the duo of the first requisite. Obama would have to deliver the second. He might not be willing to cede so much power to the Clintons who may not have his best interest in mind.
Dumping Biden poses the risk that the loose canon Biden get even looser. He may decide to pull an Al Haig and tell the media the real deal–that he was pushed off the ticket in a panic by the inexperienced and unprepared Obama. Such a revelation would likely sink Obama’s chances.
For that matter, Biden might not even agree to leave the ticket. He was nominated by the party, and Obama cannot force him to step aside. Broaching the subject might be enough to tear apart the ticket.
Effect on Women
Polls show that the Palin factor is leading more women to the McCain ticket, included some disaffected Hillary supporters. Putting Hillary on the Dem ticket would almost certainly reverse this trend.
Image of Chaos
Obama must consider the public’s view of a switch in VP candidates. The Republicans would (rightly) say the move demonstrates Obama is indecisive and weak. Images of Eagleton would play on the news every night for weeks, reinforcing the similarities between Obama and McGovern–the man who lost 49 states to Richard Nixon. This risk might be enough to convince Obama to stick it out with Biden.
Impact on Election
While Hillary would stabilize the female vote, it would not be enough to overcome the appearance of immaturity and unpreparedness. Obama already frightens a lot of people–even Democrats–who are unsure whether he has the basic qualities of a world leader. For all the publicity, his European tour made him look more like a poseur than a statesman. He has already reneged on almost every promise he’s made, including repealing the Bush tax cuts and accepting Federal election funds. Changing Veeps mid-stream would more or less prove the Republican (and Joe Biden’s) arguments that he’s a child in a man’s suit.
My guess is that Obama’s people are talking to the Clintons right now. If Hillary indicates she would accept the VP, Obama will move fast to make the change. It would happen by September 15 to give time for debate preps. If he makes the move after about 9⁄20, he may not have time to recover from the instant negatives generated by such a naked admission of his own error on choosing a running mate.
UPDATE: There is very little Obama-Biden campaign gear in the official Obama store catalog.