In selecting Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate, Sen. Barack Obama may have selected the safe pick, but according to several campaign insiders, Biden wasn’t necessarily his first or even his personal choice.
“He really wanted [Kansas Gov. Kathleen] Sebelius,” says one Obama insider with knowledge of the Democrat candidate’s vetting process. “And if our European tour had played better here at home, she might have been the pick.”
But, says the insider, the campaign’s internal polling indicated what the public polling indicated — that Obama failed in his European sojourn to build out his foreign policy credentials. “We needed the foreign policy on the bottom of the ticket more than we want to admit,” says the insider.
Sebelius would have helped Obama in several other ways domestically, particularly in the Midwest, where her success as a moderate governor in a borderline “red” state would have perhaps diluted his extreme leftist tendencies.
But beyond his failure to create the impression that he had any foreign policy experience, Obama’s polling also indicated that Sebelius’s presence on the ticket probably further damaged his relationship with Hillary Clinton supporters. “We have enough problems with them as it is. Putting Sebelius on the bottom of the ticket would have been another stick in the eye,” says another adviser.
Yet, say those with knowledge, with all that, Obama would still come back to Sebelius as the first option. And that, say some insiders, indicates the influence inside the campaign of former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. Not only do his former aides and advisers fill the top ranks of Obama’s campaign, but Daschle himself is being credited with helping Obama through the selection process, and he steered Obama toward Biden over other options that were on the table, including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Evan Bayh.
Bayh, by the way, was less than happy with the use of his name to steer some reporters away from the Biden pick in the days leading up to the announcement. Obama aides had “Obama-Bayh” bumper stickers produced in small numbers and leaked to the press last Friday, and even constructed a rudimentary “About Evan Bayh” web page on the Obama website.
Biden, while helping Obama with his foreign policy experience, also exposes the ticket to a thicket of thorny issues, not the least of which is Biden’s relationship with his brother James, who runs a lobbying shop here in town, where Senator Biden’s son Hunter is also a partner.
The pair have actively sought clients that might have business before committees that Biden serves on in the Senate, and have dabbled in hedge funds, which, say Democrats on K Street, did not go well. Biden’s other son from his first marriage is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq in early October, an event the Obama campaign has factored heavily into its early October campaign schedule.
“Biden is very well aware that his son’s deployment is going to be a big part of what we do in October. It’s part of our narrative and we’re going to milk it for all it’s worth,” says one of the Obama advisers. “Republicans would do the same.”
MESSAGE TO McCAIN
Several prominent conservatives, one of whom serves on the board of the Arlington Group, a coalition of social-conservative organizations, and is a delegate to the Republican convention, say that should the Republican platform currently being shaped in Minneapolis and Sen. John McCain‘s vice presidential selection not reflect the views of the conservative movement, they will attempt to mount a challenge to McCain’s nomination on the floor of the Republican convention next week.
“I’m talking about more than roll call vote,” says the Arlington Group board member. “I’m talking about putting another name in nomination and sending Senator McCain and conservatives across the country a message: we’re not going to sit back and surrender our party just for a political victory. Senator McCain says he’d rather lose an election than lose the war in Iraq. I feel the same way about my party, and I know other conservatives think that way too.”
A floor challenge would require the majority of delegates from a total of six states, one to make a motion to open the floor to a new nomination, and five others to essentially second the motion. But it would also require good timing and some luck. The convention schedule — even when not televised — is tightly filled and heavily scripted, and it isn’t clear that the secretary of the convention would make it easy for such a motion to be placed.
That, and the notion of getting the majorities of six states to agree on such a motion, which would shake the convention, makes such a challenge highly unlikely, perhaps even impossible.
“Right now there are only two ways to send McCain a message: the convention or the ballot box in November. I’d rather send the message sooner rather than later, because we can’t afford to allow Obama and Biden to win,” says the delegate, who adds that the decision to put a moderate to liberal on the bottom of the ticket — “a Romney or a Giuliani or a Lieberman” — would probably be enough for him to seek help in creating a parliamentary spectacle at the convention.
“Senator McCain is taking conservatives for granted,” says another delegate, who is not looking to embarrass McCain, but who is unhappy with the way the campaign has dealt with conservatives. “He expects us to fall in line, but look at the keynote speaker: Giuliani. He’s not only a liberal Republican, he ran an awful campaign. He’s not a party standard-bearer. You have moderates controlling the convention and the podium and then conservatives get five minutes a night. You get the sense that McCain is embarrassed by the conservative values he claims to believe in.”