Saturday, June 07, 2008

More politics

1. My Fellow Americans is a blog with the adventures of two British journalists following the American primary campaign trail (both Democratic and Republican), with a lot of talking to voters along the way, and illustrated with some very evocative sketches. They've also already rushed their impressions into publication as a book.January 18:
As we’d discovered in the historic cities of Philadelphia and Boston, there are some very high ideals, lofty speeches, and great men who have set the tone for leadership in the United States. (Whereas in the UK we sort of drift airily along without ever sitting down at a big table to formally codify our liberty.)
February 1:
The last two nights have seen us dashing headfirst into our motels to watch CNN’s respective Democratic and Republican debates; out of obligation, rather than enthusiasm, it must be said. These TV debates are like a political version of dressage, the equestrian sport where the horse just rides cautiously around an empty paddock: they are reductive, stultifyingly banal versions of the real thing, but they are also painfully nerve-wracking at the same time, because you know one tiny slip-up could ruin a competitor’s whole campaign.
January 26:
2. Justin M. Sizemore on Crystal Ball '08 has as good of a summarized analysis of how Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination as I've yet seen. The upside of this is that Obama's team understands strategy and they've been able to harness a lot of organizational grassroots power. The downside is that there are no caucuses in November for Obama to take advantage of.

3. The same website also has an essay from each side (from a month ago) recommending a Vice Presidential choice for the two remaining candidates. Democrat Gerald M. Pomper recommends Virginia Senator Jim Webb for Obama, and Republican Kathryn Jean Lopez recommends former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for McCain.

In the early days of the Republican primaries, I had been hoping they would nominate Mitt Romney for President, both because I thought he was a stiff, pompous Republican analogue to John Kerry, but also because I thought that in the event that he did manage to win I thought he'd be less odious than the other Republicans. There's a lot with which I disagree with Romney, but if nothing else his record shows him to actually be a good businessman (unlike Bush) and an excellent manager (witness his turnaround of the Salt Lake City Olympics). A technocrat like Romney would be a lot less scary than a seat-of-his-pants warmonger like McCain.

So what would it mean for the Republicans if Romney were selected as VP? A bigger question is whether the VP choice matters at all. Looking back at recent elections, by and large, the running mate either didn't carry his home state (Edwards-NC, Kemp-NY), or he came from a state where his party winning was a foregone conclusion (Cheney-WY, Lieberman-CT). And a doofus like Dan Quayle didn't sink George Bush the Elder, at least not in 1988. The last time that you could really point to a running mate making a big difference in securing a win was 1960, when LBJ helped Harvard man JFK win most of the Deep South. I think you could also make the case that Dick Cheney helped George Bush the Less win, not in any specific states, but just generally, as Cheney was seen (not by me, but by some voters) as the "smart" guy behind the "charismatic" Bush.

So, yeah, maybe the Veep choice doesn't really matter... except when it does. It's the first real decision the country gets to see its potential next president take. The basic idea is generally to pick somebody that shores up support in an area where the candidate is weak, but there's also the thought that by doing so, you're admitting weakness, or that if you pick somebody too different from you, it sends conflicting messages. That'd be the problem with McCain selecting Huckabee, for example: he's just too different.

So, back to Romney. Like Lopez says, selecting him would be a signal that somebody with a better grasp of economics would be on the ticket, and while he's only ten years younger than McCain, he looks a lot more robust. I don't know how much of a difference his economics really would make with the electorate; for every Republican wary of McCain for his so-called "maverick" stances, there's probably another who doesn't trust Romney's perceived opportunism and flip-flopping. Despite that, Republicans have a way falling in line behind the candidate once he's been selected, anyway. Plus there's the unknown factor of how wary some people might be of the LDS church (especially with the FLDS polygamy problem making news), though you've got to think they're more than outweighed by the people wary of Obama's church or who think he's a secret Muslim.

I actually think Romney could strategically be a big plus for the Republicans. He's not going to win them Massachusetts, but, as Lopez says, he has something of a favorite-son status in big swing-state Michigan. But beyond that, I think the Mormon factor could cut into Obama's Western strategy. Utah is going Republican no matter what, but part of Obama's strategy is his appeal in potential "purple states" like Nevada and Colorado. These states have significant LDS minorities who might seem small in numbers, but have strong organizational power and who helped Romney win Republican primaries around the West. You'd have Obama's grassroots vs. Romney's grassroots. If Obama were to pick Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, the West could become one of the more interesting battlegrounds of the general election.

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