Who's It Gonna Be?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008 9:59 AM

We are witnessing a new phenomenon in the annals of veepstakes mania: the pre-reaction.

It's like everything else in our fast-forward media culture: Why wait for the actual event? Whip out that keyboard and tell everyone what you think about Obama's VP choice right now.

Don't know who it is? So what? You're not going to let a little thing like that get in the way, are you?

As I've been chronicling in this space, various pundits have been sounding off for months on all kinds of potential choices for both Barack Obama and John McCain. But now that O is on the verge, and the buzz (informed or otherwise) is growing louder for Joe Biden, a number of liberal bloggers are offering their blessing. Sometimes it's a qualified blessing, but they're comfortable with the Delaware Democrat.

The working assumption is that it's come down to Biden and Evan Bayh, with the Indianan deemed the safer but less exciting choice. Tim Kaine's stock is fading with the selection of fellow Virginian Mark Warner as keynoter, according to this analysis. A few folks are still floating Kathleen Sebelius, Dick Lugar and other names. Almost no one is expecting Hillary Clinton.

Wait! Biden's car passed some reporters yesterday and he said, "I'm not the guy."

But--wait! A source close to Biden says pay no attention, he still could be the guy. And in a later drive-by, Biden told the scribes he had no idea whether he'd been chosen.

But when will--hold on! Lynn Sweet says the rollout comes Saturday in Springfield.

But--oh boy--the Chicago Sun-Times reporter doesn't say that will be the running mate's first appearance, so it could be sooner.

Aha! CBS says the announcement will come Friday afternoon. Hmm . . . What's the definition of afternoon?

And, on the Republican side, I haven't even gotten to the Joe Lieberman boomlet, which succeeds the Tom Ridge boomlet.

"The goal is to maximize favorable publicity -- and build excitement for the conventions -- without creating problems that could mushroom in the hothouse atmospheres of Denver and St. Paul," says the L.A. Times. But by heightening the melodrama, the effect seems to be one of raising the stakes for the eventual choice.

Of course, this is one giant guessing game right now. The Obama operation, determined to break this by text message, has been pretty leak-free until now. But with nothing better to do, lots of pundits are talking up Biden (or talking him down, sometimes at the same time).

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn:

"If Biden is the choice, I think it would speak well of Obama's judgment. Biden has a deep and impressive resume: Not only is he the guy who orchestrated the defeat of Robert Bork back in the 1980s, but he can also claim among his legislative accomplishments the Violence Against Women's Act, which is no small feat. He's smart, articulate, and is a bona fide expert on foreign policy: In other words, he's certainly capable of assuming the presidency in an emergency, which is really the most important criteria of all.

"Biden's record is not without blemishes: He supported that awful Republican bankruptcy bill--most likely out of parochialism, since Delaware is home to the credit card industry. His performance in the Clarence Thomas hearings was as bad as his performance in the Bork hearings was good. Still, Biden has shown genuine foresight and courage in his career, perhaps most memorably as an early advocate for American intervention in the Balkans. Overall, his voting record is strongly progressive.

"The other downsides to Biden are primarily political: He has a habit of straying off message and making impolitic comments, like the time he referred to Obama as 'articulate' and 'clean.' "

Josh Marshall: "On the one hand, it's not the most exciting choice. He doesn't bring a state. Delaware's going to go Democratic. And it's barely a state at that. And I'm not sure you'd rate it as a first: 'history is made -- first sixty-something white senator with deep foreign policy experience chosen to be vp nominee!' Biden clearly thinks well of himself and likes to talk. But he's been a U.S. senator for pretty much his entire adult life. (He's 65 today and was elected at 30.) So I'm not sure you can expect anything different. Finally, Biden also occasionally says something really whacked, which we'll probably find out more of if he's the pick.

"On the other hand, wholly separate from the cosmetics and electioneering calculus, I think he'd be a good choice. On substance, maybe a really good choice. Most senators' grasp of foreign policy is fairly thin -- and it tends to be heavily influenced by whatever lobbyists or power players are in their orbit. But Biden has a pretty deep knowledge of pretty much every big foreign policy question. And his ideas and judgment strike me as fundamentally sane."

Interesting that we have to make the distinction between political asset and qualifications to be vice president. Of course, you never get the shot unless you help get your guy elected.

Chris Bowers at Open Left: "Biden is not a reinforcing choice, as he has served in the Senate for 36 years and supported the war back in 2002-2003. In two key ways--Iraq judgment and 'change' election--that is very much the opposite of Barack Obama, and could muddle his message.

"Still, when it comes to ideological leanings and campaign ability, Biden is a preferable choice to Bayh and Kaine. Rather than being a right-wing Democrat, and despite his reputation online as a hawk representing D-MBNA, Biden is pretty middle of the road for a Democrat . . .He is also a good attack dog, and you shouldn't have to worry about him falling down in that category."

But Kos is not too enthusiastic:

"Judgment? Biden voted for the Iraq war. But beyond that, even if we stipulate that he has foreign policy chops, how does that make him a good veep choice? It strikes me that any pick designed to cover up a 'flaw' in Obama (i.e. 'lack of foreign policy credentials') only accentuates those flaws. Make him secretary of state.

"Sure, compared to Bayh and Kaine, Biden looks almost passable, but that's a low hurdle to pass. I'd rather not have to choose my poison. I'd rather have candy."

Here's a tea leaf in Obama's speech yesterday, courtesy of Jake Tapper:

"That is why I'm proud to join my friend, Senator Joe Biden, in calling for an additional $1 billion in reconstruction assistance for the people of Georgia."

At the Nation, John Nichols sees Biden filling a gap:

"Obama needs a running-mate with foreign-policy 'stature.' That's not a governor, and it's probably not Bayh -- whose record of accomplishment in the Senate can best be summed up as 'Democrat from Indiana.'

"So that leaves Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Clinton, whose international credentials are actually a good deal more solid than even her advocates recognize.

"If it's Biden, the pick comes early. The Obama camp will want to pump him up pre-convention.

"If it's Clinton, the pick comes later. There is no need to 'introduce' Hillary Clinton, and no desire to explain the concerns about Obama's relative inexperience on the global stage and his relative weakness among blue-collar voters in battleground states that made the choice necessary.

"There has been a bit of Al Gore buzz."

That would grab the political world by surprise--and make all the predictions look silly.

Wait, it won't be Gore, says Salon's Alex Koppelman: He's speaking on the convention's final night.

"A gutsy and smart move: It shows that Barack Obama is unafraid to be overshadowed, plus it's a way to rally those base Democrats and liberals who have pleasantly marveled at Gore's remarkable political comeback. (And by elevating Gore to final night, is it not also a coded semi-rebuke to the Clintons?)"

On the Republican side, I've long felt that McCain would like to pick Lieberman--it's a maverick move, they've been friends for a long time--but wouldn't. Now Politico reports:

"John McCain is seriously considering choosing a pro-abortion-rights running mate despite vocal resistance from conservatives, with former Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) very much in the mix, close McCain advisers say."

Upside: It would be a bold pick, a bipartisan play, and help with Jewish voters in Florida.

Downside: Half the Republican Party would be ticked off. Has anyone ever run for veep after being a running mate for the other party? Wouldn't it be easy to dig up embarrassing quotes of Joe taking positions anathema to the GOP?

Tom Ridge, also pro-choice, is in the mix as well, based on this dispatch from National Review's Rich Lowry:

"NR has learned that the McCain campaign has been calling key state GOP officials around the country the last couple of days and sounding them out about the consequences of a pro-choice VP pick. The campaign is asking about the reaction of conservative grass-roots activists to such a pick and whether a pro-choicer can be sold to them. This is an indication that the McCain campaign is serious about the possibility of a pro-choice VP nominee and that McCain leaving the door open to Tom Ridge last week may not have been merely a friendly nod to a longtime supporter. In this scenario, McCain's emphatic pro-life statements Saturday night and his pledge that he'll run a 'pro-life administration' would have been partly an attempt to reassure conservatives in the event of a pro-choice pick."

And how does Lowry's magazine feel about that?

Lieberman: "Last year, he earned a rating of just 8 percent from the American Conservative Union -- a single point better than Obama's score of 7 percent. (McCain's rating was 80 percent.) On issue after issue, Lieberman would clash with the man on the top of the GOP ticket. Rather than allowing McCain to snatch the mantle of post-partisanship, these abundant contradictions would threaten to sink the 'Straight Talk Express' into a morass of disagreement and inconsistency."

A Ridge pick "would still alienate many of the voters whose enthusiasm McCain needs. And Ridge poses a deeper dilemma. He isn't a conservative who happens to be pro-choice, but rather a moderate who has abandoned conservatives time and again. When Ridge was a congressman during Ronald Reagan's second term, Congressional Quarterly found that he was more likely to oppose White House initiatives than to support them."

But he has all that experience with color-coded charts!

So, add Ridge and Lieberman to--wait! Fox is reporting from McCain sources that he won't pick a pro-choice veep! Back to square one?

This survey will fuel Democratic concerns about Obama:

"Barack Obama's public image has eroded this summer amid a daily onslaught of attacks from Republican rival John McCain, leaving the race for the White House statistically tied, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll released today.

"Far more voters say McCain has the right experience to be president, the poll found. More than a third have questions about Obama's patriotism."

Obama has a statistically insignificant 45-43 lead.

When I went out with the McCain campaign a few weeks ago, it seemed to me that the candidate wasn't having much fun compared to past outings. Not only was he being deprived of the company of reporters, but he was keeping a very regimented schedule. This, says David Brooks, was not Plan A:

"McCain hasn't been able to run the campaign he had envisioned. Instead, he and his staff have been given an education by events.

"McCain started out with the same sort of kibitzing campaign style that he used to woo the press back in 2000. It didn't work. This time there were too many cameras around and too many 25-year-old reporters and producers seizing on every odd comment to set off little blog scandals.

"McCain started out with the same sort of improvised campaign events he'd used his entire career, in which he'd begin by riffing off of whatever stories were in the paper that day. It didn't work. The campaign lacked focus. No message was consistent enough to penetrate through the national clutter . . .

"McCain and his advisers realized the only way they could get TV attention was by talking about the subject that interested reporters most: Barack Obama . . . Now they are running a much more conventional race, the kind McCain himself used to ridicule."

Seems to me Obama has also been running a more conventional campaign. So much for the notion that they would conduct joint town halls around the country. Maybe the pressures of a general election simply force you into daily-sound-bite mode.

Is McCain ripping off Solzhenitsyn with his story about Christmas in the POW camp? I've seen him tell the story with obvious emotion. What would Democrats say if the right was questioning whether a candidate was lying about his experience as a prisoner of war?

Joe Klein says Obama's comments about Clarence Thomas at the recent Rick Warren forum were not a gaffe, as some Obama critics have suggested, but a smart and savvy move.

"This was a splendid bit of politics and substance on Obama's part, in fact: Clarence Thomas was an affirmative action hire--as I argued, in New York Magazine, back in the day--and has proved to be a stone ideologue on the court, without the suppleness of intellect that the other way-right justices evince.

"But this was also a message from Obama to white middle class America: If you think I'm one of those black guys who's going to fill my administration with affirmative action hires, you've got the wrong fellow. I'll call out those who don't meet my standards regardless of race."

The new Bob Woodward book on Bush and war is coming, in less than three weeks.

And the new National Enquirer has a crystal-clear photo of Rielle Hunter and her baby on the cover, and the latest details of its investigation of John Edwards:

"The day prior to Edwards bombshell admission to an affair on ABC's Nightline, Rielle Hunter and her 6 month old daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, were flown out of the US onboard a chartered Learjet.

"The private flight cost $50,000 and was paid for by Edwards' pals. The Hunters were the solo passengers aboard the eight-hour flight.

"Destination: St. Croix in the Virgin Islands!

"THE ENQUIRER tracked Rielle to St. Croix where our reporters discovered Rielle and the baby stayed in a luxurious oceanfront home owned by controversial trial lawyer Lee Rohn, another close friend of Edwards.

"When visited by an ENQUIRER reporter on August 15, Rohn snapped a terse 'No comment!' when questioned about Hunter."

Finally, Michael Phelps may have eight gold medals, but even a champion swimmer isn't immune to tabloid questions about his estranged dad:

"Everyone in the world is clamoring for a piece of golden boy Michael Phelps - except for his own father.

"Phelps' dad, Fred, admitted to The New York Post that he has not had a single conversation with his Olympian son since Michael left for Beijing."

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