Many people have been screaming at Senator Hillary Clinton to abandon her presidential bid. They argue that she is selfishly standing in the way of party unity and increasingly the likelihood that Senator John McCain will be the next president. The Hillary-must-go-now crowd should tread lightly. What many of these people don't seem to understand is that Barack Obama cannot win the presidency without significant, sustained, and sincere support from Clinton. Consequently, he needs to be patient and give her whatever she wants -- even if it means giving her the vice-presidential nomination.
There are four reasons why Obama needs Clinton. First, the Obamaniacs have yet to accept that, for all the money and notoriety his candidacy has generated, he may be weakest Democratic nominee since former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. I know that seems counterintuitive, given the enormous amount of money he has raised, the way he has energized new voters, and the way his message is resonating with voters all over the country. The reality is, however, that he has not dominated the nomination fight -- indeed Clinton would already be the nominee if the Democrats allocated their delegates on a winner-take-all basis as the Republicans do in most states. Moreover, we don't yet know the full extent of the racial and cultural roadblocks between Obama and the White House. My study of race and politics tells me that those roadblocks are mountainous and we are not yet in the general election. This puts a high premium on picking the right running mate.
Second, Hillary Clinton can be a better running mate than anyone else being mentioned. Who among us believes that Sam Nunn, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, or John Edwards can go into Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia and deliver those states to the Democrats? At one level or another, they represent some of the old style politics from which Obama promises to move the country. It's also doubtful that Nunn, Biden, and Edwards for example, would be willing to go after their former colleague, McCain, as the running mate is expected to; Edwards' unwillingness to do that in 2004 is seen as one of the reasons why John Kerry lost.
Third, the 41-point beating he took in West Virginia even though it's widely accepted that he will be the party nominee underscores the serious problem he has in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Those realities can't be overcome by just holding campaign rallies and talking about inclusion. Obama needs a running mate that has credibility with these voters and can vouch for him on all the areas where questions exist. Who better to do that than the woman who won, or is far ahead in the polls, in those states in the primaries?
Obama needs someone who can make him palatable to the voters that have, heretofore, remained cool to his presidential bid. Some have not taken to Obama because they, idiotically, believe that he is a closet Muslim (as if that means he's disloyal to the country) devoutly dedicated to the teachings of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, or some of the other ridiculous notions being pushed by conservative talk radio. Even more don't like him because he is Black. Obama seems unwilling or unable to confront racism for what it is, so he will need someone who can divert attention from race to something else. Clinton can do that too.
But would such a teaming work in November? I think it could, given where the Republicans are in the eyes of the country. Recently losses by the GOP in previously safe southern House seats, President Bush's historic unpopularity, and questions about McCain's longevity suggest a voter mood that is sure to keep the Democrats in the game, Obama's weaknesses notwithstanding. An Obama-Clinton ticket may seem like a longshot but, upon further review, it may be the only way the Democrats can recapture the White House.
Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote. A registered Independent, he blogs at: www.MichaelFauntroy.com.