CNN Sr. Political Analyst
By all accounts, Barack Obama has written off Hillary Clinton as a running mate, but after watching the politics of the past few days, it is increasingly clear that he should reconsider.
The major tests for a vice presidential choice are (a) whether the person is qualified to be president; and (b) your running mate will give you a better chance at victory. It is relevant but should not be decisive whether you happen to like the person. History suggests strongly that in 1960, John F. Kennedy did not much like Lyndon Johnson - and Bobby despised him - but Kennedy, locked in a close race, chose Johnson anyway. It was a wise call: LBJ delivered not only Texas but enough southern votes to put JFK over the top by a whisker.
Barack Obama has just come off a couple of the best weeks we have ever seen for a campaigner. What other candidate has walked so safely through the minefields of the Middle East and drawn over 200,000 people in Europe? Given the unpopularity of President Bush and the meandering campaign of John McCain, one would ordinarily expect that Obama would have opened up a lead of 10 points or so. Yet we see just the opposite happening: whatever small bounce he may have gotten overseas is evaporating. This week started with Obama up 9 points in the Gallup tracking poll; that lead has shrunk day by day so that this morning, they are tied at 44-44.
Hillary Clinton predicted early and often that the Republican attack machine would crank up against Obama. Now it has - and it may be working. It is increasingly clear that Obama needs some reinforcements on the battle field so that he doesn't have to carry the fight all by himself. Who is any better at fighting back than Hillary and Bill Clinton? She showed in the Democratic primaries just how tough and resilient she can be - and how well she can frame an argument. If they can patch up their differences, it is hard to imagine that Obama can find anyone who would be stronger at his side during the fall.
The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton would be divisive on the ticket, driving away many voters. No doubt, she will drive away some, but the Obama campaign has to weigh how many others she would help to bring in. Yesterday, Lanny Davis - a long-time supporter of the Clintons - wrote an important article in the Wall Street Journal laying out the case for Hillary. He pointed to a recent Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll (taken July 22-23) showing that in a head-to-head, Obama held a narrow 1-point lead over McCain, 41-40. But when voters in the same sample were asked to choose between Obama-Clinton vs. McCain-Romney, the Democrats gained a net of 8 points, leading 48-39! The big difference was that running alone, Obama got 74% of the Democratic vote, but with Clinton on the ticket, he got 86% - a significant 12% increase. Historically, one of the first rules of a candidate is to unite his party behind him before heading into the fall. Are Democrats really united at this point?
As Lanny Davis argued, there is a strong case that Obama running with virtually any Democrat can indeed win. But there are increasing reasons to believe that with Hillary Clinton at his side, he could have an even stronger prospect. Time for a rethink in Chicago?
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