Obama-Clinton 2012? Obama-BIden 2012? Why It Doesn't Matter

People vote the top of the ticket, not the number two.


Wednesday's will they or won't they boomlet about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was classic Washington. The media was obsessed all day long, with endless commentary that was by definition almost entirely whole cloth speculation (about what might happen a year-and-a-half from now) fueled by horse race politics calculations (rather than, say, policy or really anything affecting the lives of average people).

And the best part? It really doesn't matter.

Here's why: When voters cast their ballots on November 6, 2012, they'll be voting for or against Barack Obama and his policies. His running mate, whether Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, will be window dressing. If unemployment is down, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are going well, and the public is embracing the healthcare reform law, Barack Obama will win reelection. (And

[See a slide show of 10 keys to an Obama comeback.]

And if the economy is still in the tank Obama's running mate won't matter, whether it's Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, or even Bill Clinton. Running mates as a general rule don't matter. Name the last one who did. LBJ for JFK? Arguably? But does anyone think that McCain-Pawlenty would have performed notably better than McCain-Palin? Or to put it another way the classic example of the unimportance of a vice presidential pick is Dan Quayle. These calculations are only more true when you're talking about an incumbent. When Obama next stands for office the American people will have a full record upon which to judge him.

Game it out. Suppose a still slumping Obama dumps Biden and adds Hillary Clinton. The theory is that the blue collar voters among whom she beat him in 2008 will suddenly become accessible to him. How exactly? Would the president not still be Barack Obama? Would VIce President Clinton somehow have greater importance than every one of her predecessors? Would putting Clinton on the ticket somehow bring the power to travel back in time and undo politically unpopular policies?

If a running mate switch is seen as a way to turn around ailing fortunes, it will be a symptom of deeper problems. A president may run as part of a ticket, but he wins or loses on his own.

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