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Will There Be an Obama-Clinton Ticket?


Recent public opinion polls indicate a growing number of Democrats want presidential contender Barack Obama to pick Hillary Clinton as his vice presidential running mate, if he wins the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. But many political experts say a so-called Obama-Clinton "unity ticket" is unlikely.

Would Barack Obama really choose Hillary Clinton to be his running mate? Political experts say as unlikely as that appears, it could happen.

Norman Ornstein, a political scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, says, "It is always possible that the way this plays out over the next month or so kind of forces you to do something that you do not want to do and something that probably Senator Clinton would like to have happen now given the realistic outcome that she is not going to win the nomination."

Healing and Unity

Supporters of a joint ticket say it would be the best way for the Democratic Party to bind up its wounds and unify after a bruising, bitter and lengthy nomination fight between Senators Obama and Clinton. Having Clinton on the ticket could also help Obama win some key voter groups in the general election that he has had trouble with in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.

Political analyst Michael Barone says the campaign has revealed some deep divisions within the Democratic Party. "We do have sort of a civil war, a tribal war, that we continued to see in Pennsylvania. The old versus the young, downscale versus upscale. Latino and Jewish voters on the one hand, black voters on the other hand," says Barone.

Obama has had success in winning support from the young, the well educated and African-Americans. But he could benefit from Clinton's appeal to women, older Americans and especially white working class voters. But political analysts say it remains an open question whether Clinton could draw those voters to support the Democratic ticket.

But Morton Kondracke, the Executive Editor of Roll Call, a newspaper that covers the U.S. Congress, says, "There are some that he needs to get, so-called Reagan Democrats who might have thought about returning to the [Democratic] Party and say that they won't vote for him [i.e., Obama]. Now, whether she could bring them along if she were his running mate is another question. Or maybe he could get someone who could do it, someone like [former U.S. Senator] Sam Nunn or maybe Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania -- somebody from sort of her ideological orbit, but not her."

Reasons Against a Joint Ticket

But for all of the arguments in favor of a joint ticket, political experts say there are just as many against. Analyst Norman Ornstein says Barack Obama wants to present himself as an agent of political change, to make a clean break with the past, including the Clinton era of the 1990s.

For those reasons, Ornstein doubts that Obama would pick Clinton. "It is a slim possibility. Certainly Senator Obama does not want to do that. I do not think he believes that it would be nearly as positive as some other Democrats, including some in the Clinton camp, feel," says Ornstein. "He would rather have leeway to pick somebody who probably is a little bit stronger on the national security side."

There is also the issue of Hillary Clinton's polarizing impact on voters. Public opinion polls have long shown that Clinton has nearly as many detractors as admirers.

Stephen Hess, a political expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says, "The problem with Mrs. Clinton is that there are a lot of people who do not like her very much. And those are people who probably would not vote against Obama because she is on the ticket, but possibly they would not work as hard [to elect him]. They would not show the same enthusiasm for the ticket or they might even stay home [and not vote on election day]."

Putting Clinton on the ticket would also raise complicated questions about what her vice presidential role would be in an Obama administration. And then there is the separate question of former President Bill Clinton and what role he would have.

William Beaman, the Editor-in-Chief of Politics magazine, says, "It would be very awkward to have not only someone who is as forceful a personality as Hillary Clinton, chomping at the bit and trying to turn the vice presidency into much more than it typically has been in the past. But you have Bill Clinton, a former president, who would be sort of this person kind of in the wings advising. By extension, Bill Clinton, I think, would have a voice -- almost in a shadow vice presidency way."

Repeating History?

Most experts say that vice presidential running mates historically have had little impact on the outcome of presidential elections. But there have been cases when it paid off for political rivals to join forces and run as a team. It happened in 1980 when Republican Ronald Reagan chose George Bush as his running mate. And it was a key factor in the 1960 election between Democrat John Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon.

According to Stephen Hess, "The Lyndon Johnson-John Kennedy team was probably the only case in American history where choosing a vice presidential nominee very likely won the election for the candidate. It was very close. Obviously, John Kennedy was the first Catholic president, a young man. And in choosing a southerner, he assured some substantial victories in southern states and won a very, very close election over Richard Nixon."

If Barack Obama does become the Democratic Party nominee, it is expected he would choose a vice presidential running mate sometime before the party's national nominating convention in late August.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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