Talking My Book

That’s a Wall Street expression for making an argument that, if accepted by the market, would also make you money given the positions you hold. I’m already on record as predicting a McCain-Huckabee versus Obama-Webb race in November. I’m feeling pretty good about that prediction right now.

On the Republican side, there is no plausible nominee at this point other than McCain. Romney has not won any primary where he is not a native son (Michigan is where he grew up and his father was Governor, Massachusetts is where he was Governor, and Utah is his ancestral homeland, as it were). Huckabee has not won any substantial number of votes outside of his Evangelical Christian base.

Of course, there’s no reason for either Romney or Huckabee to quit the race. Romney has a good chance of winning Kansas and Washington this Saturday, as both are caucus states and he’s shown an ability to organize caucuses (he has won every caucus state except Iowa and West Virginia – both of which he lost to Huckabee, and the latter only because WV has a second ballot, and the anti-Romney forces united behind the second-place finisher). Huckabee has a reasonable shot at winning Louisiana on Saturday and Virginia on Tuesday (if Romney wins Virginia, it would be the first piece of evidence that movement conservatives can actually deliver an election – which is why I don’t expect it). It is very plausible that, between them, Romney and Huckabee could deny McCain a majority of delegates, even if McCain wins Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania (in all of which he should be considered favored). But if that happens, McCain can easily clinch the nomination by agreeing to select Huckabee as his running-mate. Which is pretty much what I expect him to do, however much the conservative movement leaders may rage and gnash their teeth. Moreover, there’s no clear way for Romney to win over the Huckabee voters. Huckabee is winning the votes of some people who profess to be more conservative than the typical McCain voter. But they also appear to be more inclined towards McCain as a second choice than Romney – perhaps because they are more downscale and concerned about the economy; perhaps because they are less happy with the direction of the country and with the Bush Administration; perhaps, indeed, because they just don’t like Romney for whatever reason (a quite common problem, it seems). It’s not obvious that running hard against Huckabee will win Romney votes; it might just push them to McCain. And running hard against both might just solidify the perception that McCain and Huckabee are a ticket – which might well satisfy both McCain and Huckabee voters more than not. While I could still see McCain making another pick if he runs away with the rest of the contests, the continued presence of Huckabee makes it that much more likely that McCain is on the top of the ticket with Huckabee by his side.

On the Democratic side, Super Tuesday was basically a draw in terms of delegates. Which means I score it as a win for Obama. Obama won more states, and in more regions. Obama won about the same number of primaries (7 to Clinton’s 8), plus he won all of the caucuses. Obama has shown superior organizational skills (hence the win in every caucus to date except for Nevada, where he won the majority of delegates anyhow), and superior fundraising skills (he has substantially more cash on hand, and he appears to be able to raise huge sums without turning to criminals for assistance). And the calendar looking forward is very favorable to Obama: caucuses in Nebraska (Obama won Kansas, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota), Washington (Obama won whites in California and won Idaho), Maine (no particular advantage except it’s a caucus) and Hawaii (one of Obama’s home states), and primaries in Louisiana (Obama won South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama), Maryland (Obama won South Carolina and Delaware), Virginia (ditto), the District of Columbia (overwhelmingly African-American) and Wisconsin (Obama is from neighboring Illinois, and won the caucuses in neighboring Minnesota and Iowa). Obama could very plausibly win every single contest between now and March 4th. Right now, a fair anaysis would say that there’s no front-runner; while Obama is well-positioned for the next phase, Clinton still has more establishment support than Obama, and she won California by a bigger margin than expected (if Obama had won California on top of everything else, this race would be over, and if he had fought to a tie he’d be the clear front-runner). But a tie game represents substantial movement in Obama’s direction, so I feel happy sticking with an Obama prediction for the top of the ticket.

But what about the Veepstakes? Doesn’t the winner need to unify the party? I don’t think it’s out of the question that Clinton would offer, and Obama accept, second place on the ticket if Clinton wins a clean victory (i.e., not on the basis of super-delegates nor on the basis of muscling the Michigan and Florida delegates into the mix). But I have a much harder time seeing Obama picking Clinton if he wins a clean victory, or of Clinton accepting if the spot was offered, because Clinton weakens the ticket in a general election, and nobody not surnamed Clinton will have trouble supporting Obama in the general election if he wins the nomination (whereas Clinton might have trouble drumming up African-American enthusiasm if Obama loses, particularly if there’s a perception that he lost because the former President played the race card).

So: assuming Obama wins, and doesn’t pick Clinton as his VP, who will (or should) he pick? Obama’s weakest states to date are all in the border south: Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Arkansas is a special case because it’s one of Clinton’s home states, so perhaps Obama would have run stronger there under other circumstances. Missouri, where Obama did win despite similar characteristics, was quite close. In any event, there is a collection of border states – Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, maybe even Virginia – that have shown movement in the Democrats’ direction, and that are potentially in play in November if the Democrat can win enough white voters. A McCain-Huckabee ticket is very well-placed to hang on to this region, and perhaps it wouldn’t be worth Obama’s while to try to make any headway here. But picking the right running mate might at least force the Republicans to spend time and money defending a region that they should have locked-down – and with an expected funding advantage, an Obama campaign should give that possibility serious consideration. My pick for Obama is James Webb, who would certainly have appeal in this region. Moreover, I don’t think he would hurt, and probably would help in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, likely to be the primary battlegrounds of 2008 as in 2004 and 2000. I think Webb would prove an excellent debater against Huckabee, as well as an excellent contrast (the way the Democrats will play up the age issue against McCain if he does pick Huckabee as VP is going to be by highlighting how unready to be President Huckabee is). The biggest problems with Webb have to do with personality and temperament, but these are the areas where Obama is especially strong, so he can afford to pick someone for reasons other than natural charm.

The alternative direction for Obama to take would be to pick somebody who would have special appeal in states like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Here again, Obama would be trying to win in a region where a McCain-Huckabee ticket should have natural strength, but where the tides of demographic change are working in the Democratic Party’s favor. Two obvious candidates would be Janet Napolitano or Bill Richardson. The main problem with either is that neither balances Obama in any way except geographically, and I think Obama is going to need a bit of balancing. In any event, I think Webb is a more plausible pick than many of the other names being bandied about (Obama’s not going to pick a bland Midwesterner like Bayh or Vilsack, though Strickland has obvious appeal; Edwards isn’t going to have another shot at Vice President; Biden makes a lot more sense as Secretary of State; Clark seems to me implausible in every way; that pretty much leaves Napolitano, Richardson, Warner, Webb, or someone really outside the box, unless I’ve forgotten somebody).

I’d say we’ll see soon enough, except it looks like this thing could go all the way. Anyhow, we’ll see.