Hillary for VP: Obama's Best Hope for Re-election?

Hillary for VP: Obama's Best Hope for Re-election?

By Richard Benedetto - August 16, 2011

If by early next year President Obama's re-election chances are looking as dicey as they do now, there is likely to be a growing clamor inside Democratic circles to drop Joe Biden from the ticket and replace him with Hillary Clinton.

Rumblings have already begun, and with good reason. The latest Gallup Poll shows Obama’s job-approval rating at a new low of 39 percent. The political rule of thumb is that presidents must be at around 50 percent approval at election time to win.

Clinton would add some much-needed pizazz to a tough campaign that Biden does not. More importantly, she would shore up a shaky Democratic base, a huge part of which consists of disappointed women who still believe the secretary of state should have been president and would have done a better job than Obama.

Biden, who ran for president himself in 2008, was picked for vice president largely to make up for the foreign policy experience that Obama lacked. After all, he had been chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Clinton, after three years of solid performance as secretary of state, more than matches that, making Biden expendable.

It is Clinton’s voice, not Biden’s, that we hear when the administration speaks out on hot spots such as Syria, Libya and Somalia. That clearly demonstrates how much trust and confidence the president has in allowing her to articulate administration policy on touchy and volatile foreign policy issues he would rather not be front-and-center on himself.

In contrast, Biden flopped on the one high-profile task Obama gave him this year -- negotiate a budget-deficit deal with Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The Biden-led talks came to an abrupt end in June when Republicans walked out.

All this is not lost on the public. The Gallup Poll puts Clinton’s favorability with the American people at 66 percent. The last Gallup measure for Biden put him at 42 percent.

Moreover, with the growing possibility that a woman -- Rep. Michele Bachmann -- could be on the Republican ticket either in the first or second slot (more likely the latter), Clinton would provide a formidable counter that an all-male ticket would not. Democrats would love to pit Clinton’s political and experiential skills against those of Bachmann. It’s a matchup they believe they would win going away.

On top of all that, Clinton has a large, spirited and loyal following among Democrats and many independents. Biden does not. The vice president only brings Delaware and its three electoral votes to the fold. And Delaware is a heavily Democratic state that would probably vote for Obama whether Biden is on the ticket or not.

Clinton, however, could shore up flagging Obama support in critical swing states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, states the president must carry to win a second term. Without them he’s a goner, and he knows it.

His current pre-vacation bus tour in the Midwest -- a technique usually reserved for the final months of election campaigns -- is a sure sign that he is worried about his re-election. Minnesota and Iowa are on the itinerary, the first being the home of GOP hopeful Bachmann, the second a state where Republicans have been receiving a tsunami of media attention in the past few weeks. Nervous Democratic strategists have been urging the president to get back into the game. This is his response.

Clinton has said she is “absolutely” not interested in running for vice president in 2012. But she might be persuaded, given the possibilities. She could become the first woman VP, an honor that would be hard to resist. Besides, it would make her the odds-on front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

Too old, you say? Not really -- she would be 68 while running and turn 69 shortly before Election Day. In the media parlance of today, 70 is the new 50, making Clinton just as “young” as Obama. And, unlike Biden, now 68, she’s not prone to falling asleep during presidential speeches. 

Richard Benedetto is a retired USA Today White House correspondent and columnist. He now teaches politics and journalism at American University and in The Fund for American Studies at George Mason University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benedettopress.


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