The other "other woman" for veep

If Barack Obama wants to choose a woman other than Hillary Clinton as his running-mate, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano commands some real attention.

Published July 8, 2008 1:25AM (EDT)

With one name (Jim Webb) dropping off Barack Obama's list of potential running-mates today, it's as good a time as any to add one. Some people will tell you that Obama dare not name another woman if he spurns (as the CW holds he will) Hillary Clinton. And the only name often heard as the "other woman" on the veep short-list is Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

But over at The American Prospect, Dana Goldstein makes a solid case for another "other woman" worthy of consideration: Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

Napolitano is one of those "centrist" Democrats whose early endorsement of Barack Obama's candidacy was based in no part of the transpartisan and pragmatic rhetoric that so many of his fans and critics never took that seriously. As Goldstein notes, it probably made sense to her as a politician who has personally managed to reach out to (and/or neuter) Republicans in Arizona, without sacrificing her progressive principles or her willingness to fight the Right when necessary. (The article is provocatively entitled, "Janet Napolitano and the New Third Way.")

Indeed, Napolitano seems to have made something of a speciality of defying stereotypes. She got her first big political break by serving on Anita Hill's legal team during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. But she gets along well with good old boys, and built her pre-gubernatorial career on being a tough prosecutor. She's a leader among Democrats who are very serious about immigration enforcement. But she defied harsh Republican (and voter-initiated) anti-immigrant measures, while maintaining a remarkable level of popularity.

In terms of her personal style, says Goldstein, Napolitano is "both wonky and charismatic. When she's ticking off the details of her new children's health insurance proposal, she reminds you of Hillary Clinton -- except you don't get the sense Napolitano has had to practice to come off as funny or natural in public." One of her supposed handicaps -- rumors about her sexuality (she's never married) -- doesn't seem to have hurt her in her relatively conservative state. And as Goldstein notes, her "story" has some interesting chapters: "This is a woman who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and survived breast cancer."

Goldstein suggests that Napolitano's great ambition in life is to become Attorney General of the United States. But don't be surprised if she eventually makes the veep shortlist. She could help Obama keep McCain very occupied in his Arizona base, and could help in other western states as well, without appearing provincial (she was actually born in New York City).

Keep her in mind as Denver, and the next administration, grow nearer. She'll be relevant even if John McCain wins the presidency, since she'll be appointing his successor in the Senate.

By Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is the managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and an online columnist for The New Republic.

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