POLITICS
06/13/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hillary Clinton Running For The Vice Presidency

Hillary Clinton has, in effect, converted her presidential campaign into a bid for the vice presidency, an unprecedented move and a high-risk gamble for a candidate in her position.

Both personally and through intermediaries, in an exceptionally direct appeal for a losing candidate, Clinton has openly signaled her interest in the number two spot - a post once said to be worth less than "a bucket of warm piss."

In an interview with The Washington Post, Clinton supporter and Black Entertainment Television network founder Robert Johnson said Clinton has authorized him and others to persuade Barack Obama to pick her.

"She said if asked to do this, she must accept because she believes that it is in the best interest of the party that the party come together and win in November," Johnson told the Post.

Hillary's approach violates the protocol of avoiding overt appeals normally associated with the vice presidential selection process. Asked how to conduct such a campaign, Jim Jordan, who served as John Kerry's campaign manager, responded "very, very carefully."

Traditionally, those seeking to be chosen by their party's nominee have tried to used more elliptical, methods of signaling their readiness to serve their country.

In 2004, for example, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, immediately upon ending his own bid for the presidency, endorsed John Kerry, telling Kerry's aides that the Massachusetts Senator was "my pick'' early on -- in a message whose meaning everyone understood.

Along similar lines that same year, Don Imus asked John Edwards ''You know, and I know, and everybody knows, you would be willing to take this in a heartbeat, so at what point would you be willing to say that?'' Edwards replied, ''I'm not going to say that on your show.''

In one of the more bizarre events in the history of vice presidential selection, Mike Gravel, who ran for president this year, nominated himself for vice president at the 1972 Democratic Convention on the ticket with George S. McGovern, losing to Thomas Eagleton, McGovern's choice, 1741.81 to 225.38.

Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg was dismissive of the Clinton-generated boomlet for herself. "It's such an individual decision by the presidential candidate that it takes a Hillary to do it."

Ron Kaufman, a top aide to former President George H. W. Bush -- who served as Ronald Reagan's vice president for two terms -- said there is one guiding rule that anyone interested in the post should follow: "If you drool, you lose."

Former congressman Jack Kemp in 1980 and 1988 campaigned hard and got nothing. "My old boss [George H.W. Bush] did not worry about it and did whatever the Reagan folks asked him to do, and it all worked out," noted Kaufman. "Gerry Ford's folks, in '80 put on a big campaign for Ford to be 'co-President.' That backfired."

In the more distant past, there were rare occasions when vice presidents were picked in open competition for delegate support at the national conventions.

Former Democratic Party and South Carolina Democratic chairman Don Fowler, who has an encyclopedic memory, noted two cases:

"In 1944, FDR did not want incumbent vice president Henry Wallace to be on the ballot. He left the field open; there was sort of a campaign between Harry Truman and Jimmy Byrnes of South Carolina. Truman won. In 1956, Adlai Stevenson threw open to the convention the selection of the VP. Senator Jack Kennedy ran against C. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. Kefauver won."

Although it is certainly unusual for a candidate to begin publicly running for vice president before withdrawing from the presidential contest, this may be the moment when Clinton has the most leverage, presenting herself as the one person who could significantly heal the divisions now running deep in the party.

White women, especially older white women, are one of Obama's problematic constituencies and Clinton has done very well among them.

A survey conducted at the end of May by the Pew Research Center on the People and the Press found:

"Hillary Clinton continues to garner the majority of support among some segments of the Democratic base. In particular, 57 percent of white women favor Clinton as the party's nominee, while just 38 percent favor Obama....

"Obama's diminished popularity and support among white women may in part be an indication of a growing backlash against him among Clinton's women supporters. The survey finds that as many 39 percent of Clinton's female supporters believe that her gender has hurt her candidacy. In turn, favorable opinions of Obama have tumbled among women who support Clinton - from 58 percent in March to 43 percent currently."

These findings suggest that Clinton may right now be in the best position she ever will be to make the case that adding her to the ticket offers an opportunity to bring these Democratic voters back to the fold.

As speculation about Clinton's interest in the vice presidency spread, her campaign issued a statement designed to quiet the controversy:

"While Senator Clinton has made clear throughout this process that she will do whatever she can to elect a Democrat to the White House, she is not seeking the vice presidency, and no one speaks for her but her. The choice here is Senator Obama's and his alone."