Now that the two candidates are pretty much known (though Byron has sown a tiny doubt in my mind about the inevitability of Obama), it’s time to consider the second spots. Yesterday I was asked about this at an energy conference hosted by Deloitte in Washington where I was speaking on the course of the election. The answer popped into my mind so whole and entire that, after I’d finished speaking, I had more or less persuaded myself. So I thought I’d share it here.
The principal value of a veep candidate, it seems to me, is that he shores up the weaknesses of whoever heads the ticket. In Obama’s case the candidate to do that most spectacularly is his Virginia Senate colleague, Jim Webb. Is Obama considered too dovish? Jim Webb was Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy and before that he fought in Vietnam. Are white workers the largest part of the Democratic coalition still suspicious of his bona fides? Jim Webb is the nearest thing in the Senate (and in today’s Democrat party) to the voice of America’s clue collar class. Has Jeremiah Wright put a question mark over Obama’s patriotism? Webb is the main upholder of the Jacksonian tradition in U.S. politics. He’s even written a history of the Scotch-Irish in America–that’s about as politically incorrect as you can get. In short Webb appeals to many of the blue-collar Reagan Democrats who would otherwise be bowled over by McCain who himself doesn’t need to sound patriotic since he’s the embodiment of patriotism.
McCain is not, however, the embodiment of economic enterprise–except that a man who marries a brewery heiress can’t be wholly lacking in shrewdness. So he needs a Mitt Romney to testify that the GOP will know exactly how to handle the economic squalls that are assuredly coming our way. Romney is an executive from central casting. He is also distinctly young whereas McCain is, well, getting on. McCain is handling that problem well on Saturday Night Live, The Comedy Show, etc., giving a game imitation of Jack Benny But he needs to persuade the American voter that someone will be there to catch him if he falls. Finally, Romney established himself in the primaries as the main conservative champion or at least as the last conservative standing. His selection would reassure the conservatives who are the main victims of “Maverick John’s” media-pleasing policies over the years.
Both veep candidates have another crucial advantage. Each comes from a state worth winning where his presence could swing the state from its usual loyalty into his own camp. (Gore managed this in reverse and lost his home state tp George W. Bush.) But the main point about each is that he fits the main candidate like the last remaining piece of a jigsaw puzzle.