Quora Question: Does Clinton Benefit From Having Her VP Shortlist Leaked?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacts before speaking in Brooklyn on June 7. Lucas Jackson/Reuters

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Answer from Michael Lee, public policy analyst:

I have a hard time thinking of Hillary's VP list leak as anything more than a couple of news cycles' worth of discussion, rather than providing a big boost to the campaign.

Meta-campaign level, there's a bit of positive here. Secretary Clinton gets people talking about her campaign, and thinking about these people accompanying her to the White House. That's a good bit of news for the political media to talk about for a while.

But I'm not convinced that the list itself is a particularly good one, and that's more of a challenge for her campaign as pundits keep talking about it. Bear with me.

A rule of thumb in recent presidential politics is that a vice presidential nominee rarely benefits the ticket, but can often hurt it. (Just ask John McCain!) Assuming that holds true, neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns can expect much in the way of upside out of their eventual picks; they can just hope to minimize downside risk.

Clinton's list seems focused on that latter task: with a number of somewhat lower-profile politicians (Warren excepted) being floated, the campaign is trying to pick a veep that it can introduce to the public—and whose national profile can be carefully shaped. I see three basic categories of potential picks here:

  • "Who?" A couple of cabinet secretaries, the mayor of Los Angeles, and a couple of Congressmen. Their common factor? None of them have much of a national profile! Even the most popular pick I've heard—Julian Castro—hasn't run for any higher office than mayor.
  • Swing state senators. In addition to somewhat lower national profiles, Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown both hail from purple states. The party probably doesn't want her picking one of them, because then Democrats have to defend those seats. (And the left thinks they're about to take back the Senate—would you give up a chance to be in the majority, and a safe Senate seat, in order to take a gamble on winning the vice presidency?)
  • The liberal celebrity. The one sore thumb on this list is Senator Elizabeth Warren. Liberals love her, and they trust her far more than they do Clinton. But while seeing her name on the list is something of an olive branch to the left after Clinton vanquished their Vermont champion, there's only a tiny chance that she'd end up the pick. Warren is far more powerful in the Senate than she is at the Naval Observatory, and she knows it.

So I look at this list critically and I see a bunch of bad choices and the same name that's been suggested for months—Julian Castro. He's old news.

That's not to say this whole thing isn't newsworthy—it definitely is, and it keeps the coverage focused, however ephemerally, on their messaging. That's also a bit of a victory in political news cycles dominated by Donald Trump.

But I suspect that Sanders' many supporters around the country aren't hugely reassured by it. That's Clinton's immediate problem—she needs to shore up her left flank after fighting over it throughout the primary—and I'm not sure this will be effective at that. The longer that the Clinton campaign has to focus on healing old primary wounds at the expense of the general election, the worse it looks.

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