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The Consequences of Rejecting Hillary

Did Obama pick the wrong person to be his running mate?

7:30 PM, Sep 10, 2008 • By FRED BARNES
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IT'S WIDELY ACCEPTED now that Barack Obama would be better off if he'd picked Hillary Clinton as his vice presidential running mate instead of Joe Biden. Obama had his reasons, particularly his discomfort with her as his actual vice president if he's elected. Still, Obama sacrificed a stronger ticket by rejecting Clinton.

Absent Hillary, the contest between Obama-Biden and the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin is throwing the Democrats into disarray. The consequences of Obama's veep decision appear mostly to favor McCain. And if Obama had picked Hillary? Here are a few of the differences.

No Palin. Okay, McCain might have picked her anyway. He was looking for a running mate who would help him shake up the campaign. And Palin has delivered spectacularly on that. But choosing her would have seemed far less of a game-changer had Obama picked Clinton. Palin would have been merely the second female running mate in 2008. And her appeal to those who had voted for Clinton in the primaries would have been reduced if not nullified altogether.

As a result, the prospects of the other potential game-changers McCain was considering--Democratic senator Joe Lieberman and pro-choice ex-Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge--would surely have risen. And while it's unknowable whether McCain would have picked Palin if Obama had gone with Clinton, selecting Palin would have been a lot less likely.

No Biden. He's not an albatross, but he certainly hasn't given Obama a boost. He has brought no balance to the ticket, not in regard to class, gender, ideology, or anything except longevity in Washington. Worse, unlike Palin, he's generated no enthusiasm or excitement. Biden has little appeal to the working class voters, especially women, who swarmed to Clinton in the primaries. He lacks the populist streak that Clinton had fashioned for herself. Biden is simply a weaker running mate.

Party unity. Democrats have come together fairly well behind the Obama-Biden ticket--but not as well as they would have if Obama had chosen Clinton. We still hear from disgruntled Hillary backers. Reporters have discovered they're easy to find at McCain-Palin rallies. Polls can't tell us how many will ultimately vote for McCain and Palin. But a chunk of them will--perhaps a few million--which means that Democrats aren't as unified as they might have been.

Ohio and Pennsylvania. Republicans figured these states, notably Pennsylvania, were all but goners if Clinton won the Democratic nomination. Even as veep, she'd have had a favorable impact. When she was passed over by Obama, Republicans jumped for joy. Ohio, which a Republican presidential candidate has to win, now leans McCain. Pennsylvania, which is crucial to a Democratic candidate's chances, has become a ripe target of opportunity for McCain.

Arkansas. As a Southern state, Arkansas is inclined to vote Republican in presidential races unless there's a compelling reason not to. One of those reasons: a Clinton on the Democratic ticket. Without Clinton, Arkansas moves into the leaning (strongly) McCain camp.

Vice presidential debate. This is a no-brainer. Who would be the easier opponent for Palin to face in the nationally televised debate on October 2? Clinton or Biden? The tough woman or Senator Windbag? Biden will have to be on his best behavior and treat Palin gingerly. Clinton wouldn't have had to.

Republican women. Mark Penn, chief strategist in the Clinton campaign, once insisted that 25 percent of Republican women were ready to vote for her for president. Many crossed party lines and voted for her in the primaries. Many of those women might have voted for an Obama-Clinton ticket. But how many Republican women are going to reject Palin and vote for an Obama-Biden ticket? Mighty few.

Because of all the problems associated with the Clintons--husband Bill, her relatively high unfavorability in polls, Clinton fatigue--Hillary Clinton appeared to be the wrong running mate for Obama. I thought so. I was mistaken. As Clinton won primaries in big states and developed a populist appeal to downscale white voters, her political value soared. As it turns out, Obama needed her. McCain is lucky Obama missed his chance.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.