Why Obama Didn't Pick a Governor

Way back in February, it became clear that both the Democratic and Republican parties would nominate U.S. senators and that, therefore, for the first ...
by | August 25, 2008
 

Way back in February, it became clear that both the Democratic and Republican parties would nominate U.S. senators and that, therefore, for the first time since John Kennedy in 1960 a senator would be elected president. For folks who are not Democratic partisans or Republican partisans, but state government partisans, this bad news came with a silver lining: surely, surely, John McCain and Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton would pick governors as their running mates.

So, what happened?

The answer, it seems to me, is that Obama is perceived the same way the public usually perceives governors on the national political stage.

The big advantage that governors have when they run for president is that they can credibly run against Washington. They make good change agents. The argument is something like, "I didn't make the mess, but you can trust me to clean it up."

The problem governors tend to face, however, is that their experience is always in doubt. They haven't met a lot of foreign leaders or made foreign policy.

Doesn't that describe Obama's strengths and weaknesses? He's a credible voice for change, but there are questions about his experience. Most of his political career was spent in state politics. In that way, he's a lot like a governor.

When governors become presidential nominees, they almost never pick fellow governors as their running mates. The last time that happened was in 1948, when New York Gov. Thomas Dewey teamed up with California Gov. Earl Warren on the Republican ticket. Every running mate decision is different, of course, but usually governors are looking for foreign policy heft.

Just look what the public was demanding from Obama, the quasi-governor, according to an NBC/Wall Street Joural poll. From First Read:

But for Obama, the No. 1 quality sought in a running mate is someone with diplomatic or military credentials. Fifty percent of respondents said they'd like to see the Illinois senator pick someone who is an expert in the military or foreign affairs, compared to only 25 percent who thought McCain should do so.

The only Democratic governor who would have satisfied that demand is Bill Richardson. Richardson and Joe Biden are actually similar in a lot of ways. Besides the foreign policy cred, they're both gaffe-prone former presidential contenders. You can almost imagine Richardson being a little bit hurt when Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili asked for Biden to visit his country. For whatever reason, Richardson never seemed to get a very close look in the veepstakes.

John McCain, on the other hand, is not a governor in senator's clothing, but a senator through and through. So, his short list seems to include a governor (Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty) and two former governors (Mitt Romney and Tom Ridge).

Interestingly, McCain's list also may include CEOs, such as Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina of E-Bay and HP fame, respectively. CEOs are similar to governors -- lots of executive experience, not much foreign policy experience. U.S. senators are noticeably and appropriately absent from McCain's list, unless we're truly to believe that we're in for a second round of Liebermania.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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