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Vice Presidents

Over on Calpundit, Kevin Drum did a nice job of demonstrating that runners-up for the presidential nomination are rarely chosen as running mates, with Reagan's choice of Bush in 2000 and JFK's choice of LBJ in 1960 being the recent exceptions. There may be a lot of reasons for that (or, like the study about Senators' stock market returns, it may be an irrelevant statistical nothing), but one thing to note is that it is very unusual for someone to come out of the nomination fight looking good, but not winning. Usually "losers" look like "losers" in the first light after the election. In 1988, for example, the failed candidates: Gore, Gephardt, Biden, among others, each looked deeply flawed immediately after losing to Dukakis. That was a misperception, of course, because all three later reemerged as more than credible candidates. Edwards is highly unusual in that he comes out of the nomination fight looking just great, like the future of the party. The perception is that he only lost because he didn't have quite enough experience and the election schedule was too compressed -- nothing that reflects badly on his skills or ability to perform under pressure.

I'm not necessarily advocating that Edwards should be the running mate, just pointing out how unusual it is to have someone in his position, with the national recognition of having run in the primaries but also an unblemished image. There are other factors that might weigh in favor of another candidate, such as more experience, a key state or constituency, or the desire to have a governor matched with a Senator, although the list of current and former Democratic governors is shorter than it used to be.

If Kerry decides to use his choice of a running mate to bid for a key state, let me reiterate a point I made long ago: Senator Bob Graham not only is not the best running mate for Kerry, he isn't even the best choice among Democratic Senators from Florida. Senator Bill Nelson is MUCH BETTER: He's younger than Graham, about the same age as Kerry but with 30 years of experience, including six years of notable accomplishments as the state's insurance commissioner around the time of Hurricane Andrew. He's less quirky than Graham, whose positions on the Iraq war and on terrorism are serious but really complicated and whose endless diaries of his daily life strike anyone, even bloggers, as a little odd. According to the Almanac of American Politics, Nelson is reputed to be straight-laced and religious, but also "easygoing and folksy," which helped him defeat the uptight Rep. Bill McCollum in the 2000 Senate race and should pair well with Kerry. He's a Vietnam-era veteran, and flew in the space shuttle Columbia. He's a solid moderate-liberal who has not tried to cut to the right on either economic or social issues. I haven't seen him much, but I first noticed him speaking very powerfully against the Medicare prescription drug bill last November. He's also from the swing area of the swing state, Central Florida, and represented in Congress the generally Republican area known as the Space Coast. The only downside to Nelson, as far as I can see, is that unlike Graham, Bill Richardson, Janet Napolitano, Tom Vilsack or others being mentioned, he is not and has never been a governor. (He ran for governor, but lost in a primary to the saintly Lawton Chiles in 1994, the one setback in his career.) And he doesn't bring any "firsts" to the ticket. (Although Bush-Cheney/Kerry-Nelson would be a first in one respect: an all-Yale field. Although Cheney dropped out, before realizing later that continuing education did have some advantages, such as a draft deferment.)

So Edwards is perhaps my first choice, I love Governor Napolitano (more on that later), but I think Nelson might be my very strong second choice. Unless I'm missing something, he could deliver the state and the election.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 6, 2004 | Permalink


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As a resident of Tallahassee and someone who is involved in state politics, I feel obliged to tell you that Senator Nelson is not beloved in the way that Senator Graham is within Florida. True, he won against McCollum who was widely identified from the anti-Clinton wars when he was known at all. He is not well thought of within the Capital or without. I don't know that he could deliver the state. I also don't know that Graham could either. My gut is that if Kerry wins Florida, its because Bush lost it and lost of a lot of other red states.

Posted by: hankporter | Mar 6, 2004 12:10:22 PM

After the experience we are having with a "CEO-style" presidency could a double Senator ticket make the case that leading by consensus is a better model than leading by dictate? It is a complicated case to make, but is there a way to boil it down to a sound bite that captures the isolation America is experiencing from the rest of the world?

Or are Americans too in love with cowboy style leadership for this to even be a good strategy in the first place?

Posted by: Rich | Mar 6, 2004 1:09:21 PM

Also, if Kerry/Nelson won, two Republican governors would choose replacements for Democratic Senators. Kerry might not want to cost himself one more Senate vote.

Posted by: arthur | Mar 6, 2004 1:17:06 PM

Graham, whose positions on the Iraq war and on terrorism are serious but really complicated...

I understand that you're approaching this from a political/electability standpoint, but your tone suggests that you believe Graham is a few cards shy of a full deck.

Just for the sake of posterity, I'd like to point out that Graham knew from the start that the Bushies were trying to play him for a sucker. The other Florida senator, meanwhile, was chugging the neocon Kool-Aid like a frat boy at his first kegger.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., recalled in a hearing last week how senators got closed-door briefings from U.S. intelligence officials that told of Iraq possibly transporting an unmanned aerial vehicle to the waters off the U.S. East Coast.

"You can see all the more why I thought there was an imminent threat," Nelson said.
Personally, I prefer "really complicated" to "simple-minded."

Posted by: Grant | Mar 6, 2004 6:59:58 PM

For what it's worth, Josh Marshall points to a Miama Herald poll showing Kerry/Edwards and Kerry/Graham both beating Bush/Cheney by six points. Kerry/Nelson wins by two points.

Posted by: Nat Irons | Mar 7, 2004 4:46:29 PM

I agree that Edwards is still a viable choice. However, sans Edwards, maybe Kerry should look westward. Isn't Florida full of ex New Englanders anyway?

Posted by: Joe Taylor | Mar 7, 2004 8:42:45 PM

As an Arizonan, I can't really understand the
Napolitano buzz. What's so great about her exactly?

Posted by: dtreason | Mar 7, 2004 11:51:55 PM

I still think its going to be Max Cleland.

Posted by: Tom | Mar 8, 2004 8:26:24 AM

I don't think John Kerry will forget the smear the two North Carolinians, John Edwards and Hugh Shelton, put on Wesley Clark; character assassination executed to perfection by a ruthless trial lawyer. Nor has Edwards explained the estimated $290,000 he dodged in Medicare taxes (see Novak). Let's face it, there was speculation in some corners that when Edwards got Kerry one on one in the debates, he would rise to become the nominee. The opposite happened. The contrast showed Edwards woefully unqualified for the presidency ... he couldn't offer much when he couldn't make his theme based platitude speech.

Posted by: poputonian | Mar 8, 2004 10:08:30 AM

I like Governor Granholm of Michigan. It is important to present a ticket that is attractive, physically vital.

Posted by: Bob H | Mar 8, 2004 12:42:40 PM

Granholm isn't eligible b/c she wasn't born in the US.

Posted by: halle | Mar 8, 2004 12:56:29 PM

dtreason - Ten electoral votes. We hope. Also she's a woman and a former prosecutor (like Kerry). But really it's just those ten big ones in her back pocket.

Posted by: schwa | Mar 8, 2004 10:54:15 PM

Napolitano = Republican lite

Just another slimy politician as far as this Arizonan is concerned.

Posted by: Kosh | Mar 9, 2004 10:14:42 AM

As a resident of Central Florida I agree with hankporter that Nelson is nowhere near the beloved figure that Graham is in Florida. And grant makes the good point that Graham is far more intelligent and qualified to be president when it comes to national security expertise.

It's also critical to remember that Jeb! is givernor and would replace Nelson with a Republican. Graham is already stepping down this year and thus Florida Dems (and the nation) could be faced with 2 GOP Senators from FL if Nelson is selected as VP. Republicans now control the state legislature, the governorship, and all other statewide offices, and dominate Florida's congressional slate. The Senate is the only place Democrats have representation. If Kerry has to take a Florida Senator, please don't let it be Nelson.

Posted by: | Mar 9, 2004 1:17:47 PM

Edwards comes out of the primaries looking to me like a media-created candidate. He ran a pretty good campaign, but never really answered the main objection to his candidacy - his lack of sufficient gravitas and experience to be seen as a plausible President. He wouldn't be the worst VP candidate, but I doubt he'd be the best. Clark and Richardson both look better.

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