Running Mate Identities Revealed... in the Convention Schedules?

 

With Barack Obama slurping shave ice outside Honolulu, John McCain continuing to shake his fist in Russia's general direction and Michael Phelps proving once and for all that he's some sort of superhuman dolphin-being, the press doesn't have a lot of political news to cover this week--or a lot of readers reading what little there is to report. But does that mean cable chatterers and blogosophere babblers have taken a breather? Hardly! In fact, the absence of actual substance has only increased the amount of speculation required to fill the void--especially when there's a new excuse to indulge in completely uninformed hypothesizing about whom Obama and McCain will pick as their running mates.

This week, that excuse is a round of fresh data about the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. On Sunday, the DNC unveiled a partial roster of Denver speakers, then followed up Monday with a list of nightly themes. Meanwhile, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis hinted on national television that his boss would make a "very interesting" pledge the following week in St. Paul. Even though neither announcement contained an iota of actual information about the identity of either candidate's veep pick, the chatterati immediately leapt to their own conclusions about what the convention schedules reveal. Here, we break down their lines of reasoning--if that's not too grandiose a term for it--and weigh in on what you should and shouldn't believe. Because during the ides of August, even Stumper has a hard time resisting an indulgent session of veepwatch speculation...

Conclusion: There is no way Obama will choose Hillary Clinton as his running mate.
Line of Reasoning: A scheduling conflict. As the Democratic Party announced Sunday, Clinton--"a champion for working families and one of the most effective and empathetic voices in the country today," according to the DNC--will be the "headline prime-time speaker on Tuesday, August 26th." The following night's "headline prime-time speaker"? "Barack Obama’s Vice Presidential nominee." The laws of time and space would suggest that the Dems are referring to two different people.
Credibility Rating (out of 10): A perfect 10. It's long been hard to believe that Obama would overcome his personal doubts about the Clintons and pick Hillary as his veep. Now he's asked her to speak on a night explicitly not reserved for the No. 2. In other words, the dream is over.

Conclusion: There is no way Obama will choose Tim Kaine as his running mate.
Line of Reasoning: Another scheduling conflict. This morning, the Obama campaign announced that Mark Warner--"an innovative businessman known for his ability to work with Republicans, Democrats and Independents," according to the campaign--will deliver "the [convention's] keynote address... on Tuesday, August 26th." Warner is the former governor of Virgina. Kaine--who would speak Wednesday if selected as veep--is his successor in that role. And as the Washington Post's Michael Shear put it this morning, "the prospect of two Virginia governors giving speeches on successive nights at the convention is thought to be unlikely."
Credibility Rating: Six. While a Virginia doubleheader may be "unlikely," it's hardly impossible to imagine--or, truth be told, politically unwise. If Warner and Kaine were from any state other than the Old Dominion, we'd say that latter's hopes were shot. But as it is, Virginia is Obama's top pick-off target--a longtime red state where he's currently tied with McCain in the polls and where he's out-organizing and outspending his rival by massive margins (28 Obama field offices vs. 6 for McCain; a $1 million edge in TV advertising.) Do we think, on balance, that Obama is planning back-to-back Virginia speeches? Probably not (especially because a Kaine associate told the Post that "the governor had seemed glum, and believed that he would 'get the silver medal' in the vice presidential sweepstakes.") But given that a Warner-Kaine pairing would send a message that Obama is desperate to send--i.e., that he's serious about swiping the Virginia's 13 electoral votes--we're not ruling it out.

Conclusion: Obama will definitely choose a national-security expert--like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden; Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska; Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island or Sam Nunn, former Georgia senator and one-time Armed Services Committee chairman--as his running mate.
Line of Reasoning: It fits the theme. As Kansas Governor, Convention Co-Chair and rumored shortlister Kathleen Sebelius announced Monday, the leitmotif for Wednesday night--that is, the night Obama's sidekick takes the stage--is "Securing America’s Future." "It's about honoring our veterans and the families of our veterans," she told reporters, "and how to make us safer and move past the divisiveness and into the future." Calling Sebelius's "intriguing announcement" a potential "slip-up," 411mania.com concluded that "Obama's VP pick will in fact hold gravitas in the areas of military/national security issues."
Credibility Rating: Three. Sure, it would make sense for Obama to highlight Biden's or Reed's credentials on a night devoted solely to national security. But wouldn't it make as much sense him to give a Sebelius or a Kaine--relative foreign-policy lightweights--an opportunity to show that they too can speak convincingly about keeping America safe at the very moment millions of Americans are forming their first impressions? A successful convention speech can become a credential in and of itself--see: Obama, Barack H.--so there's no reason to think that Obama would steer a greener veep away from security just because it's a perceived weakness. In fact, quite the contrary. As Sebelius herself said on Monday, "I think anyone Sen. Obama picks as Vice President will be more than prepared to address those issues."

Conclusion: McCain will definitely choose a well-known, "presidential" running mate--unlike, say, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman.
Line of Reasoning: A wink from his campaign manager. Asked Monday by FOX News's Chris Wallace whether "there['s] any possibility that [McCain] would consider issuing a pledge, say, at the Republican convention, 'I will serve one term as president'"--something the candidate considered doing at the start of his 2008 campaign--Rick Davis was curiously coy. "You're going to have to come to the Republican convention to find out what's going to happen there," he said. "And I think everybody should tune in, because it's going to be an excellent event and very interesting to all viewers." When pressed, Davis refused to "rule out" the possibility of pledge. "I'm not talking about it at all," he said. Given that a single-term limit would increase scrutiny on McCain's age and his choice of running mate--who would immediately be perceived as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for 2012--observers quickly concluded that the Republican would have to pick a partner widely seen as ready to serve in the Commander in Chief role.
Credibility Rating: Zero. Right now, this is speculation about speculation--and even Stumper won't go that low. Which isn't to say we're not "staying tuned"...

UPDATE, 4:42 p.m: Also speaking Tuesday: Sebelius, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. As with Clinton, the unlikely possibility of a double booking would seem to put them out of the running.