The day after Hillary Clinton won a solid victory in West Virginia but lost 7 percent of the vote to a candidate who wasn't even running any longer, that candidate -- John Edwards -- has come off the fence and endorsed Barack Obama.
This endorsement is huge, not just in itself -- a white man, with solid rural support, who still has a strong following in the most recent primary state and nationally -- but also as a huge reality check -- "check" as in hockey -- to Clinton and as a hint of the direction Obama's Vice Presidential choice might go.
On racism: 20 percent of West Virginia Democrats voting yesterday said that the candidates' race played a role in their decision. And of those, 85 percent voted for Clinton -- ie, this is not black voters supporting the first serious black candidate (or female voters supporting the first serious female candidate), but white voters intentionally voting AWAY from the black candidate. That's 20 percent of West Virginia Democrats admitting they're at least somewhat bigoted -- meaning at least another 20 percent more actually are, since pollsters have long known that people are reluctant to admit to socially unacceptable views, even anonymously.
On the veep slot: pressure's being put on Obama to consider Clinton for a running mate -- and Clinton isn't closing that door; her campaign spokesmen refused to rule that possibility out (or, admittedly, in) during a telephone press conference this morning. But Clinton doesn't help Obama with his electoral map in November, which (as Roy Romer explained yesterday) is very different than Clinton's "one state solution" map. (Obama's path to the White House involves winning states like New Mexico, Colorado, and the Dakotas, whereas Clinton simply wants to win the states Democratic Presidential candidates have always won, plus either Ohio or Florida. That's why there's so much infighting between them on the "kinds" of states each one wins: Obama has won twice as many states as she has, indicating his ability to win his map, while Clinton has won the "big states" of Ohio and Pennsylvania, proving her ability to win her map. But the two maps don't really intersect.)
And, of course, it would be galling -- and look weak to voters -- for Obama to curry favor with what Clinton's campaign openly calls "the white electorate" by tapping the very woman who, far more than Rev. Wright did, has destroyed his standing with the boilermaker-drinking class of whites.
What Obama needs is a running mate who can help him win his map -- or who can help repair the (fairly recent and definitely not fundamental) rift with white voters -- or both. And in those regards, two names pop to the top:
Bill Richardson: helps Obama court the West, including his home state of New Mexico and the adjacent states of Colorado and -- taking the fight right into McCain's backyard -- Arizona. Plus, Richardson would draw the Latino vote throughout the West and in many Northern cities as well, and he has tremendous foreign policy credentials. (A more thorough explanation of why Richardson would rock as a veep here.)
John Edwards: strong in the South, strong with precisely the rural voters Clinton has been baiting, superb on healthcare (blunting any harm Clinton's done to Obama there), well-respected on both sides of the aisle. And Edwards was the first candidate to clearly connect the war with the economy, an equation that helps Obama and blunt's Clinton's claim to be better than Obama is on the economy.
The other option for Obama is to choose a Clinton acolyte, perhaps Evan Bayh, who could help him win Indiana. That might appease some of Clinton's backers and lure them back into the fold. But contrary to how it might seem on some blogs, Clinton's supporters are fervent, not rabid; upset, not petulant and self-destructive; grieving, not suicidal; and most of all, progressive, not conservative. Obama can't take their support for granted, the way Hillary has said she CAN take black support for granted, and he'd be wrong to neglect to mend fences. But Obama can assume that nearly all Clinton supporters are reasonable, open to logic and persuasion, and more interested in the common weal than in nursing their own disappointment. They don't have to come around, but Obama will reach out to them in a meaningful way, after which they will come around. The alternative is to allow the remaining two Democrats on the Supreme Court to be replaced with Scalito clones, and for all privacy rights to go away -- not just abortion choice, but all Constitutional privacy rights including the right to be gay, the right to have oral sex with your spouse in private, and the right of married couples to buy condoms, all of which would be stricken under the judicial philosophy of Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and the kinds of judges McCain recently promised to appoint. Seriously: these judges want to reverse Griswold v. CT (1965), the basis for all these rights. States could make gayness, oral sex, and condom use illegal again, along with abortion. No kidding.
Clinton's supporters won't let that happen. Which means that while Obama needs to take concrete steps to make peace with the "Clintonistas" (said with fondness), and will do so, he doesn't need to bribe them to support him with something as precious as the running mate slot. Reach out to them, yes. Bribe them, no. They're better Americans than that. He's free to pick a running mate who he honestly wants to work with and thinks will help him win, which could be Clinton or one of her supporters, but doesn't have to be.
So now Obama not only has the nomination locked up mathematically, but with Edwards' endorsement has now also made up a lot of the demographic ground he lost in recent weeks. And possibly, quite possibly, this also may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship -- an example of what a "dream ticket" would really look like.