Now that the Democratic nomination process is over, let's ask a practical question: who will fill out the tickets?
First of all, as someone who has logged a fair amount of time boning up (*snicker*) on academic treatments of the presidency, I feel compelled to point out that the choice of running mate is stupendously unimportant to electoral outcomes. We and the media treat it like a big deal because it's something to talk about in the dog days of summer, but when November rolls around there are few historical examples of VP nominees altering the outcome. They have some potential to hurt a candidate and almost no potential to help. Dan Quayle or Tom Eagleton, for example, probably cost their candidates a few votes from people who simply couldn't imagine those tools in the Oval Office. But I struggle mightily to think of an example of a VP who substantially boosted a ticket. Nonetheless.
McCain's choices, in my opinion, are two: Charlie Crist or Bobby Jindal. Crist represents an important swing state and fits hand-in-glove with McCain's vision of conservatism. That is, he's not staking out a position to the right of Fred Phelps on "social" issues but is a reliable economic conservative. The downside is that Crist would do nothing but further enrage the far-right elements who are already wary of McCain. Could a ticket of two "moderates" fly with Dobson and company? Jindal seems to be the only logical choice. A 36 year-old Roman Catholic Indian-American from the deep south, Jindal literally represents every characteristic that McCain lacks – youth, diversity, strident social conservatism, and southern roots. While Jindal lacks experience (which I personally consider a non-issue) and holds a few legitimately terrifying positions on abortion (i.e., no rape exclusions because every life has value!) he makes too much sense for 71 year-old pasty white John McCain to ignore. So what happens if the right declares Crist unacceptable and McCain decides that Jindal's social conservatism is too extreme?
Names being thrown around – General Petraeus, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, and so on – are lousy options. The only plausible scenario for these folks would be Romney buying his way onto the ticket, agreeing to spend vast sums of his fortune on the campaign, or the Dobsonites insisting on Huckabee at gunpoint. My guess is that McCain would rather go with an unheard of option (the Clinton 92 strategy) rather than a retread. Pawlenty would win out in that scenario. Romney and Huckabee have name recognition, but they already stood for election and the GOP base passed judgment. It wasn't good.
Obama…well, it gets complicated. Since we don't know what goes on behind closed doors, some of this will require pure speculation. So be it.
I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the superdelegates who migrated to Obama in recent weeks may have done so with strings attached. It's unlikely that many of them did so without naming a price. That price, especially for this last handful of superdelegates who brought the contest to an end, may have been picking the VP.
That is a long and conjectural way of saying that the "Dream Ticket" may be forced on Obama. I do not believe, not for one second, that he would choose Clinton of his own free will. Aside from the bridges she's burned and the downright insane, indefensible things she has said since losing her grip on the nomination, there's Bill. Obama does not want to deal with Bill. At all. Can you even imagine being president and having an ex-president – and mind you, this is a camera-hungry, opinionated ex-president who really misses the job – hanging around the White House all the damn time? On top of dealing with Hillary's insane bitterness and lust for the top spot? I find it inconceivable that Obama wants to do that. He may not have a choice.
If this isn't the case, I see Obama with a wider range of choices than McCain. The frontrunner has to be Bill Richardson. He backed Obama early, he's enormously popular in a swing state, he has the best anti-war credentials in the party, and he has experience. Being a fluent-in-Spanish hispanic doesn't hurt. Neither does having a personality. That said, Richardson really stunk up the Democratic debates earlier this year. He may be more useful behind-the-scenes than in front of a camera.
Joe Biden is a possibility, albeit not a strong one. He has more foreign policy cred than any Democrat in Washington. He also fights like hell at the drop of a hat. I'd pay good money to see him lay into McCain's feeble record of Bush-backing and egregious foreign policy misstatements. The downsides are his blandness (unknown Senator from unimportant state plus a case of Old White Guy disease) and his penchant for being out of control when he goes into Kill mode.
If neither Clinton nor Richardson are chosen, his next best options are Jim Webb or Brian Schwietzer. Webb is well-known for being a hardass with a leg to stand on regarding military matters. He could potentially take that wind from McCain's sails. He's also from Virginia, at which the Democrats are about to take a serious run. Schwietzer makes a lot more sense, though. Never heard of him? He's the Governor of going-blue Montana (two Democratic Senators, a Democratic Governor, and a Democratic State Legislature). He has serious anti-lobbyist credentials and could initiate some GOP pant-shitting with his ability to make the plains or mountain west competitive. On the downside, he is a nobody and his ideology is almost too similar to Obama's to be helpful.
Also-rans include Kathleen Sebelius (she blew her chance with the horrible SOTU response earlier this year), John Edwards (doubtful that he'd want it), or the idea of a unity ticket with a disaffected Republican like Chuck Hagel.
It is incumbent upon the candidates to pick someone who won't hurt them; this is a much more pressing concern than picking someone who might help. The potential landmines, in my opinion, are Hillary and Huckabee. Hillary is absolutely loathed on the right (and by an increasing number of Democrats) and both she and Bill are lightning rods. Huckabee has the highest risk factor on the other side. Honestly, it's harder to picture him not saying something idiotic. The less contact he has with the press, the better. Otherwise his words start flowing freely and he becomes a magnet for bad press.
This decision is probably bigger for McCain, who is 71 and has had every kind of skin cancer known to science. Voters will have a much easier time picturing Grandpa Mac dropping dead than Obama. Nevertheless Obama has to put some thought into his choice too. Frankly there are a lot of people who aren't sold on him and choosing an effective advocate could help make his case.