A Joint Ticket? Not so Fast
By Peter Baker
So is the Democratic race heading toward an eventual marriage between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton on the same ticket? Clinton seemed to suggest that herself during a morning show appearance yesterday and there has been a lot of buzz about the idea among Democrats and bloggers. But before anyone starts throwing confetti, there are lots of reasons to wonder whether that might or should happen.
The idea of a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket actually has been a topic of speculation for more than a year now. There was a time that some political types assumed Obama was running largely to position himself for a shot at the vice presidential spot on the ticket. Little did they realize he was running for president to actually be president. But the agitation for a "dream ticket," as some Democrats view it, only picked up as the primaries yielded an extremely competitive race. The biggest applause during the first one-on-one debate between the two in Los Angeles at the end of January came from liberals cheering a question about whether they would form a ticket together.
But they are clearly not there yet, if ever they will be. Asked about the prospect on CBS's "The Early Show" yesterday following her victories in the Ohio and Texas primaries, Clinton seemed to hint that she could envision it down the road. "Well, that may, you know, be where this is headed," she laughed, "but of course we have to decide who's on the top of the ticket." She then added: "I think that the people of Ohio very clearly said that it should be me." Obama later in the day brushed off the idea for now. "It is premature to talk about a joint ticket," he said.
The appeal of it, though, is obvious. The two have not waged an ideological struggle that would make it hard to reconcile in a single campaign. Democratic voters largely seem to like both candidates, according to polling and conversations in various primary states. They may feel more strongly about one than the other, but they seem open to either. As our assistant polling director, Jennifer Agiesta, reported after our pre-primary polls in Ohio and Texas, more than seven in 10 likely voters there said they would be satisfied with either Obama or Clinton as the party's nominee. Having them both on the ticket would in theory capture the enthusiasm each has generated among women and African Americans eager for a historic breakthrough.
Clinton has a more short-term tactical reason for dangling the possibility out there during interviews now -- it serves as a subtle message to Democratic voters attracted to Obama that they can still vote for her and get him too. When Vibe magazine asked her if there was a chance she would put Obama on her ticket if she won last week, Clinton said three times, "Of course, there is." And the idea of her picking Obama as her vice president has a certain logic to it. She would be bringing along the next generation, tapping into the energy he has aroused among younger voters and energizing the African American electorate. The logic for Obama naming Clinton as his running mate, should he win, is a little more debatable. It would, in theory, rally the party -- but it might also undercut his message about turning a page from the past and bringing change to the capital. And it might also be harder for Clinton, after all this time in Washington and in the White House, to accept the junior slot than it would be for the younger Obama, who just got to the Senate a couple of years ago.
There is, of course, a longstanding history of pulling together tickets from two competitors for the nomination as a way of healing wounds and bringing a party together. John F. Kennedy put Lyndon B. Johnson on his ticket in 1960 after competing for the top Democratic slot. Ronald Reagan did the same after beating George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 1980. But it did not happen again for another 24 years after that, until John F. Kerry tapped defeated Democratic rival John Edwards to be his running mate in 2004.
And that may serve as a cautionary tale for both Clinton and Obama as they think about this in coming weeks. Clinton need only turn to her own campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, if she wants to know how it works to team up with a primary rival. He detailed in his book, "What a Party," last year just how dysfunctional the Kerry-Edwards team was.
McAuliffe wrote that he asked Edwards after the election why he was not out attacking President Bush more. "Terry, they wouldn't let me," an exasperated Edwards answered. "I wanted to go after the Swift Boat guys. I wanted to go after Bush. They wouldn't let me." The Kerry people exiled the North Carolina senator to smaller, secondary markets and would not even share polling data with him, Edwards told McAuliffe.
McAuliffe later asked Kerry about that and the Massachusetts senator denied it. "He told me that he was frustrated that Edwards was not out campaigning harder," McAuliffe wrote. "Kerry said that Edwards told him several times, 'Watch the news tomorrow! I'm really going to go after Bush.' Then Kerry would watch the news the next night, and Edwards was nowhere to be seen."
McAuliffe concluded this way: "As I used to say to my staff all the time, what a s----- show!"
Are we in for a sequel?
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