Political Hay

Fever Dream Ticket

Why a Barack-Hillary '08 could make for a McCain '09.

By 5.22.08

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With the bitter contest for the Democratic presidential nomination mercifully winding down, pundits will once again be floating the idea of a Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton "dream ticket."

This union would in theory satisfy two estranged parts of a divided party while creating a formidable ticket for November's election, thus saving the party from the nightmare of losing the White House to John McCain.

The idea of hostile opponents uniting and burying the hatchet for the good of the party and their own careers is hardly new. In fact, it has occurred in modern America with some regularity -- with decidedly mixed results.

A glance at recent history shows that while it can occasionally succeed, it also has a history of failing miserably

In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the clear front runner for the Democratic nomination. However, he was unable to clinch the nomination due to a rule that stipulated that the winning candidate would have to be approved by two-thirds of the party's delegates -- a total it was doubtful Roosevelt could capture.

This left the door open for his opponents, including Texan Speaker of the House, John Nance Garner, to steal the nomination. With his ascendancy in jeopardy, Roosevelt's campaign managers brokered a deal: Garner would end his candidacy and support Roosevelt in exchange for the vice presidential slot.

The union of the East Coast patrician and the salty Texan worked -- FDR cruised to the nomination and into history; Garner did too -- for describing the vice presidency as "not worth a bucket of warm piss."

HOWEVER, THIS COALITION eventually frayed, as Garner increasingly objected to Roosevelt's New Deal policies. By the end of the decade, Garner viewed himself as the standard bearer of the old Democratic Party and its priorities, which Roosevelt had abandoned. Garner unsuccessfully challenged Roosevelt for the party's nomination in 1940, before being swatted away by Roosevelt on his way to an unprecedented third term.

In1952, raccoon-skin cap-wearing Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver appeared to be Democratic primary voter's candidate of choice. However, party bosses, who, rather than delegates, ultimately selected candidates, did not trust Kefauver, and instead turned to Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson.

Stevenson and Kefauver dueled for their party's nomination in 1956, with Stevenson again capturing the prize. Though he wanted Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, this time around Stevenson let the Democratic delegates choose his running mate. They in turn selected his rival, the popular Kefauver. The duo was crushed by incumbents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon in the general election.

In 1960, Kennedy and Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson vied for the Democratic nomination in a contest that was so hotly contested Kennedy and Johnson staged a televised debate before both the Massachusetts and Texas delegates. In the end, Johnson could not outmaneuver the Kennedy political operation, led by Kennedy's younger brother Robert.

In search of Texas's wealth of electoral votes, and the removal of Johnson from his powerful perch as Senate Majority Leader -- where he was a potential obstacle to New Frontier programs and legislation, Kennedy offered Johnson the vice presidential slot. It is unclear if Kennedy actually wanted Johnson as his running mate or even expected him to accept the offer.

But Johnson said yes. Robert Kennedy attempted to dissuade Johnson, creating an intense personal animosity between the two that would plague the Democratic Party for the remainder of the decade. Kennedy and Johnson would win the White House, but Johnson spent the next three years brooding, until assuming the presidency upon Kennedy's assassination.

In 2004, John Kerry and John Edwards were erstwhile rivals during the Democratic primaries, but after Kerry secured the nomination, he offered the second spot to Edwards -- a decision that, according to Kerry advisor, Bob Shrum, Kerry would come to regret, especially after Edwards promised his running mate that he would not run for president in 2008 if the ticket lost and Kerry chose to seek the nomination again -- a promise Edwards quickly broke. Regardless, the pair went on to lose to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

THE CURRENTLY PROPOSED Democratic duo could meet a similar fate. Indeed, with identical ideological profiles, safely Democratic home states and plenty of scorched earth between them, that ticket may offer little other than one-upmanship and jealousy.

And while the idea of an Obama/Clinton ticket might bring joy and comfort to worried Democratic hearts, it will not automatically repair the damage this bitter primary has wrought or necessarily bring victory in November.

When he does secure the nomination, Obama might want to look instead for a running mate who would offer geographic, ideological and ethnic diversity as well as the executive experience that Clinton could not.

That combination would not be predicated purely on pleasing liberal Democrats. It would actually be a ticket based on the complimentary qualifications of the two candidates.

On the other hand, given their similar ideologies (and short resumes) an Obama/Clinton ticket may not have great appeal outside of Democratic voters.

As history shows, in presidential politics once-bitter rivals can become smiling partners at the drop of a hat -- or the mere mention of the vice presidency. But hostilities and jealousies linger, and fragile coalitions can be sundered for the sake of personal ambition or political gain.

Kingmakers should know that what seems like a dream combination to the party faithful does not always seem so dreamy to the general electorate.

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About the Author

Ryan L. Cole writes from Indiana.