Virginia Senator Jim Webb is as close to a made-in-heaven VP pick that presumptive Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama could ever hope for. He brought the age (over 60), regional (Virginia), racial (white), and political philosophy (centrist to conservative) balance to the Democratic ticket. But even more important than the much touted ticket balance that presidential candidates absolutely demand of a VP pick, he is the walking, talking, and voting example that Obama needs to parry Republican rival John McCain's biggest attack point against him and that's Obama's razor thin to non-existent credentials as a tough guy on national security.
But just as important as that, he would give Obama what he desperately needs and that's a credible, defense credentialed, white male running mate, who can shave off some of the vote edge that white males traditionally give GOP presidential candidates and presidents, Bill Clinton not accepted.
Their vote has been a safe passage to the White House for GOP presidents, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush W. Without their solid backing in 2000, Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore would have easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would have been a meaningless sideshow. In 2004, polls consistently showed that Bush W. would bag more than 60 percent of the white male vote in a head-to-head contest with any Democrat. In the South, the number soared to 70 percent.
Bill Clinton was not the exception to the white male voting Republican rule that many believe. Bush Sr. in 1992 and Republican challenger Bob Dole in 1996 got fewer white male votes than Reagan and Nixon. But those votes didn't go en masse to Clinton. A significant number went to insurgent presidential candidate Ross Perot in 1992. Pat Buchanan with his freewheeling shoot from the lip, hard right rants also appealed to many white males voters when he ran as an independent candidate in 2000. Clinton made up the GOP leaning white male gap by racking up phenomenal support from women voters.
Short time Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean spotted the reverse gender dilemma for Democrats. He quipped during the 2004 campaign that the Democrats must grab a bigger share of the Confederate flag-waving, pick-up truck, gun rack-displaying, white male vote. It brought howls of protests from other Democrats, but Dean got it right. A fairly solid white male vote in the South and the Heartland states for McCain will put Obama in a deep hole before the first vote card is ever punched in November. Webb would help make sure that didn't happen this election go-round.
Then there's the national security issue. Obama is not the first recent presidential candidate deemed a neophyte, if not hopelessly far behind on the learning curve, on the national security issue. Bush W. carried the same political albatross. To help toss it, he did the smart political thing and picked the older, experienced two stints Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his running mate. And as the saying goes the rest is history.
In the fall, McCain will relentlessly tout his credentials as the most experienced, knowledgeable, dependable, and resolute on national security and the war against terrorism. He will just as resolutely and aggressively hammer Obama as the one who would stumble badly in a national security crisis.
The polls back up McCain on the claim that he's far stronger on national security. A Pew Research Center poll in June found that nearly half of Americans still say that Obama is not tough enough on national security and McCain is. Though most voters still rank the economy as their number one worry, and that supposedly works to Obama's favor. Obama's number one worry, though, is still being outflanked by McCain on the issue of national security concerns.
Webb is an even better bet to shore up Obama's flank against McCain on the national defense issue than Cheney was for Bush. He is a former Navy officer and Vietnam veteran just as McCain. He won four military medals in Vietnam, and was wounded twice and has gotten awards from the American Legion and VFW. This record would help ward off any GOP independent committee (hit squad) below-the belt attacks on his military credentials. He's also a former Secretary of the Navy appointed by no less than Ronald Reagan when Webb was a Republican. His experience in a cabinet post in a conservative GOP administration would be a tough one for McCain to knock.
At least for now this is all a moot point. Webb seemed to slam the door for good on any run at the vice presidency with his seemingly unequivocal "no thanks" to Obama. But politics being politics, a no never completely means a no. Webb simply is too much of the trump card that Obama's needs in his political deck to play against McCain's national security trump card. Look for the behind closed doors overtures to Webb to continue. Obama needs him too badly.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).