Speculation reached a new level after Senator Obama sent an email to supporters saying he’d pick his vice presidential running mate in the near future.

That speculation got a little more interesting Monday morning when a conference call with the Obama camp revealed that the vice presidential candidate will speak on a night dedicated to veterans’ issues:

via The Huffington Post:

On a conference call on Monday morning, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and top ranking aide Anita Dunn announced that the theme for Wednesday — the night on which the vice presidential candidate is scheduled to speak — will be national security and honoring veterans. The choice, a reporter noted, lent itself to the interpretation that Obama would choose a running mate with background in military affairs — like, say, Sen. Chuck Hagel or John Kerry.

When considering military experience, the names Wesley Clark and Jack Reed also come to mind. Was this a slip of the tongue or is The Huffington Post making something out of nothing? After all, just last week many in the media had Democrats prepared to slap an Obama/Bayh bumper sticker on the back of their cars. The week before, Tim Kaine got all the press.

This could be a wild goose chase . . . or maybe not.

A veep with military experience could help on several different levels. First, take the electoral map. Virginia is said to be a state that’s big on veterans’ issues. An Obama/Hagel or Obama/Reed ticket might play well in that state where 13 electoral votes are up for grabs. Second, there’s no reason to doubt that Republicans will try to use military service as a sledgehammer in the Fall. It would help to have someone on the ticket who’s biography won’t be as susceptible to that ever-present “He doesn’t respect the troops” meme that Republican officials love to trot out every time someone questions their foreign policy. Finally, conventional wisdom suggests that Obama should consider picking a veep that solidifies his foreign policy/national security bona fides. Hagel, Reed, Kerry and Clark could all help in that department.

Again, this could all be a distraction meant to shift media attention away from Obama’s real pick. I still think Obama could go with Senator Joe Biden. Bayh is still the media favorite. And I’d be interested in seeing an Obama/McCaskill (Missouri is a swing state) or Obama/Sebelius ticket.

But the prospect of an Obama/Hagel/Kerry/Clark or Reed ticket leaves a lot to ponder . . .

Obama/Hagel?

I’ve always felt that this pick would signal supreme confidence from the Obama campaign, showing that they intend to play offense in the Fall. It’s a hard play for the Independent vote and Hagel could do wonders to paint McCain as the man who lost his way on foreign policy . . . a man who let the wings of his better angels get clipped by Republican partisanship.

Indeed, picking Hagel would be a “maverick” move by Obama. What better way to beat McCain than to out-maverick “The Maverick“?

But Hagel’s biggest draw could also be his biggest weakness. He’s a Republican and it’s hard to know whether Obama’s base would stomach a candidate who agrees with them on the war, but disagrees with them on a host of other issues.

Obama could pull it off. A unity ticket would dominate the headlines and capture the imaginations of millions of voters. A Democrat/Republican ticket is certainly consistent with Obama’s “Change” theme, and it might be an answer to the partisan gridlock that’s consumed Washington for years. But it’s the type of “change” that could give some Democratic voters pause. Is the Democratic base prepared to trust a Republican vice president?

Obama/Kerry?

I personally love the poetic justice in this ticket. Who better to help lead the charge against the Republican attack machine than the candidate who faced the swift-boaters himself?

Talk about redemption. I can’t think of a better feel-good political story than to see Senator Kerry get payback for the 2004 Republican Convention. Remember those flip flop sandals and purple heart band aides? Well so do a lot of Democrats. Those images have been stuck in their minds for the past four years. Given the left-over emotions from 2004 and the enthusiasm for Obama in 2008, an Obama/Kerry ticket could yield the highest voter turnout from any of the tickets mentioned in this article.

But would Kerry be embraced by the Democratic establishment? A lot of people still blame Kerry for running a weak campaign in 2004. And some progressives still haven’t forgiven him for failing to fight charges of voter disenfranchisement in Ohio. Generally speaking, Democrats have a bad habit of disowning their candidates after a loss (convenient that it’s always the candidate’s fault). They rarely give second chances.

Plus, one can never underestimate the vigor of the Republican attack machine. Make no mistake about it, an Obama/Kerry ticket would require full throttled support from the Democratic party. Republican pundits and conservative talk radio would have a field day drudging up some of their old Kerry material.

It’s a winnable fight, but Democrats would have to stay focused and united in order to make it work . . . that’s ALL Democrats, whether they be moderate or progressive. Indeed, the success of an Obama/Kerry ticket might say more about the vitality of the Democratic Party (moderate and base support) than the candidates themselves.

Obama/Clark?

Clark showed he can play offense when he took the fight to McCain in June. I’ve always seen him as the best option from the pro-Clinton crowd. He’s a familiar face and his Arkansas roots might play well in Southern states vulnerable to an Obama upset.

Plus, speculate on this:

via The Huffington Post:

According to USA Today, the theme for Wednesday, Aug. 27 is “Securing America’s Future,” which just also happens to be the name of Gen. Wesley Clark’s political action committee.

This would be another bold choice for Obama because of the type of fight Clark is willing to have with McCain. His recent dust-up over the relevance of military service to be president strikes at the heart of McCain’s message. If successful, an Obama/Clark ticket could challenge the conventional wisdom that surrenders any and all things military to Republican partisanship. It’s a fight that many on the left have been wanting for some time. An Obama/Clark ticket could rally the Democratic base.

But the success of an Obama/Clark ticket could hinge on Obama’s willingness to fight. Obama distanced himself from Clark’s statement in June, and the Republicans would try their best to paint an Obama/Clark ticket as anti-troops and anti-service. Democrats (both moderate and base) would probably be up for that fight. But would Obama? Does that fight play well among Independents? Would such a fight ultimately benefit McCain, taking most attention away from traditionally Democratic issues like the economy, education and health care?

Obama/Reed?

Senator Jack Reed is a veteran with strong credentials (senior member of the Armed Services Committee) who’s support for the troops would be hard to question. Senator Reed has visited Iraq eleven times and has a history of voicing support for the troops and advocating for better armor and armored vehicles. Progressives will appreciate the fact that Reed voted against the Iraq war. Perhaps most importantly, Reed is seen as having a sensible voice on Iraq. Just listen to this stellar review:

“Jack travels to Iraq, he has friends in Iraq, and because of his many connections, Jack sees things in Iraq that a lot of us don’t get to see,”
- Senator John McCain of Arizona. (Senator Reed on Iraq)

So is there a downside? Well, Senator Reed is an unknown quantity in national politics. Reed would be a stable force on the ticket, but the campaign might have to waste time and effort introducing him to the national audience.

Plus there’s not a lot to say just how well Senator Reed campaigns. Is he sharp and tough enough to withstand attacks on his character? Can he stand up to Republican smears?

Finally, does an Obama/Reed ticket excite the Democratic Party? Reed seems like a safe pick, but does he help excite Democratic voters?

Only time will tell who Obama picks as his running mate. But it’s always fun to speculate. Picking a military veteran might focus the election on foreign policy and Iraq. Is this a fight Obama wants? Or would he rather use his veep choice to shift national focus onto traditionally Democratic issues like the economy?

Regardless of who he picks, the spotlight will continue to rest on Obama (for better or worse). Barring any vice presidential scandal (ahem . . . on second thought, that Obama/Edwards ticket wouldn’t have worked out so well), rest assured that this race will be won or lost at the top of the ticket.

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