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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Biden Choice, Women and the South

As our staff post reported yesterday, the latest New York Times/CBS poll indicates the selection of the vice presidential running mate is an important factor in the ballot decision of 25 percent of voters.
Any choice Obama made would disappoint some important constituency. And it may well be that the net number of votes gained and lost as a result of different choices wouldn’t vary all that much regardless.
The selection of Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate is nonetheless a solid choice that should help with some pivotal constituencies, including Catholics, the white working class, seniors and those concerned about Obama’s foreign policy experience. Biden’s home state, DE, doesn’t add any electoral votes. But his Scranton roots should help Obama shore up central PA and perhaps NJ, all of which Obama had a good chance of winning anyway.
Biden also gives Obama a savvy running mate, who can help Obama target McCain’s weak and strong spots more effectively. As the Senate’s top foreign policy expert, Biden will be in position to provide helpful counsel to Obama on a daily basis. Biden also has a gift for quotable sound bites and an ability to explain policy in simple terms without talking down to voters. I wouldn’t worry too much about gaffes, despite his “clean and articulate” blunder in the primary season. Biden is too smart not to have learned from it. The ’88 plagiarism controversy? I think most voters know that top politicians use speechwriters, and they sometimes screw up. Besides McCain’s “cross in the sand” story’s similarities to Solzhenitsyn’s account makes it unlikely McCain’s campaign will make too much of it.
The selection of Biden may hurt some with women, southerners and Virginians in particular. Kaine would have helped more with Virginia, and perhaps the south. As Ed noted yesterday, however, Obama has some strengths in VA that could provide a margin of victory, especially if Webb, Kaine and Warner campaign energetically for Obama. As for the south as a whole, Biden’s selection won’t help much, except possibly in FL, where Biden may help elevate seniors’ comfort level with Obama. It may be that Biden as veep may chill Obama’s southern strategy altogether. Obama can win without any southern states, but only if he wins just about all of the other swing states. As I noted in my 8/19 post, no Democrat has ever been elected without winning some southern states, and Obama has to win 72 percent of electoral votes outside the south if he is shut out in the region.
Perhaps the toughest problem posed by the Biden choice is winning the votes of women who are disappointed that a woman was not selected. As Ed pointed out yesterday, the NBC News/Wall St. Journal poll indicated that “among self-described Hillary Clinton supporters, 52% say they now support Obama, while 21% support McCain and 27% are undecided.” Worse, when that poll was taken, there was still hope that Obama would pick a woman running mate.
The Dem ticket’s strong pro-choice advocacy will help with women. Dems should miss no opportunity to point out that McCain supports criminalizing abortion. Few women, even some of those who have doubts about abortion, want women who have abortions to be subjected to criminal penalties.
The important question facing the Obama campaign now is, what can be done to win more support from women and southerners. Obama’s GA and NC campaigns may be crippled by the Biden selection. Perhaps the only hope in these states is that the African American and youth voter registration surges are big enough to justify continued investment of campaign resources. If Sam Nunn and Jimmy Carter campaign vigorously for Obama in GA, it might help with some white and conservative voters.
One thing that might help with both the south and women is to name his cabinet before the election, and make sure that women and southerners get a healthy share of the top posts. Paul Waldman suggested naming his cabinet at the same time as his veep pick. But Obama could still release cabinet nominees slowly between now and the election to good effect. It would give him a half-dozen or so days when he could dominate the news in a positive way, and it could make McCain look disorganized in comparison. Imagine the splash, for example, if Nunn and/or Clinton were Obama cabinet nominees going into November 4. The Democratic party is loaded with impressive women and southern office-holders. Obama can benefit by leveraging this resource before the election, and it would show a bold, innovative spirit that would inspire confidence in the electorate..

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