Veep too late

Whomever he chooses, Obama should have moved earlier to select his running mate.

Published August 21, 2008 5:49PM (EDT)

So we are getting down to the wire on Barack Obama’s vice-presidential pick. Forgetting for a moment the list of finalists, here's a question for Salon readers: Whomever he picks, did Obama wait too long?

I have long been an advocate of picking early, even picking a running mate -- the vice president or lieutenant governor -- and running as a tandem through the primaries. (This is not unheard of: In 2006, it was attempted unsuccesfully by a pair of Republicans in an Illinois gubernatorial race and successfully by Martin O'Malley and Anthony Brown in Maryland's gubernatorial race.) The basics of the argument is that you double up your resources for a longer period: a second candidate stumping, a second spouse, a second set of volunteers and donors and supporters, and so forth.

And I cannot help thinking that during this past month, as developments bad and good unfolded, from the Hilton/Spears ad to McCain’s homeownership mega-gaffe, it would have helped if Obama had Joe Biden or almost anyone else these pushing back against the attacks and hammering McCain for every flip-flop and misstatement.

And unlike the incumbent Republicans, who this cycle again hold their convention second, there was no need for Obama to hold the veep pick as a way to reduce the bounce the other party had coming out of its (earlier) convention, a tactic that only makes sense sequentially for the Republicans and McCain. (However, McCain could have risked that benefit and opted not to waste those precious months in the late spring after he clinched the nomination while Obama and Hillary Clinton were still fighting it out, and picked his running mate and started double-teaming Obama in, like, April.) '

Anyway, the point is that I don’t see how Biden or Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine or whoever on Aug. 22 is preferable to that person on July 22. One colleague pointed out that Team Obama has been collecting e-mails and cellphone numbers in order to text supporters first with the announcement; so, granted, there was maybe some list-building advantage to waiting. But anybody who signs up for a text alert from Obama is either a) an Obama supporter already or b) a member of the national media. I can't imagine there is a single American who thought, "I'm not sure I'm going to support Obama, but gee, if his campaign is willing to send me a text announcing his V.P., well, that changes everything!"

[For the record, John Kerry picked John Edwards on July 6, 2004, three weeks before the Boston convention began. Looks like Obama is going to pick three days before. Think about what has unfolded in the past three weeks and how a veep pick could have helped.]

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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