WASHINGTON — Some Democrats are pining for what they consider the Dream Ticket — Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, running together for the White House.
Assuming he wins the nomination, Obama has plenty of reasons to ask Clinton to join him, and neither candidate is knocking the idea.
She has a huge base of support and has outperformed him among some Democratic voters, particularly senior citizens, Hispanics and working-class whites.
She won several battleground states, particularly Ohio and Pennsylvania. She's 60, in her second term as U.S. senator from New York and former first lady. He is a freshman U.S. senator from Illinois, and just 46.
"Look, what we want more than anything is to win, and to win you're going to need all the votes she gets and you don't," former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Clinton supporter, said on CNN last week. "The best way to do it is to invite her on the ticket."
But in politics, what sounds good often isn't. If history is any guide, Obama would be best served by choosing someone who complements his style and personality, not just his politics.
Despite repeated and sometimes awkward attempts to beat the trend, not since Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson delivered Texas for Sen. John F. Kennedy has a nominee's attempt to offset his own political weaknesses — geographically or demographically — so clearly worked, experts say.
Instead, from Walter Mondale in 1976 to Dick Cheney in 2000, the road to the White House has been paved predominantly with VP picks who would best assist a president, not a campaign.
"The basic rule is do no harm," said George Edwards III, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University. "The second rule is that you find someone you can work with — they're not representative of other elements of the party, they're your selection, and they can help you govern."
For Obama, he said, "That leaves a lot of choices."
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In 2004, Democrat John Kerry ended rallies with, "Help is on the way." His running mate, Sen. John Edwards, used his own version: "Hope is on the way."
Help, hope — the split suggested little of either. The campaign had to print two sets of placards to distribute at rallies.
Marcus Jadotte, deputy campaign manager for Kerry-Edwards '04, recalled those days and said, "Forced marriages don't work."
Kerry's choice of Edwards made sense on paper: A Southerner with working-class roots, Edwards was thought to have more appeal among Reagan Democrats, and he had a strong political and fundraising base.
Yet the two never clicked, and it showed. By contrast, consider Bill Clinton — a moderate young white Southerner who picked another moderate young white Southerner, Al Gore Jr. Clinton seemed to narrow his support rather than broaden it. Yet Clinton-Gore won two terms.
"Bill Clinton chose someone who solidified his best qualities — youth, geography, forward-looking thinking," Jadotte said.
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But this was an especially hard-fought primary that often pitted two key Democratic constituencies — African-Americans and women — against each other. Some party activists worry that the wounds Clinton and Obama inflicted will cost the Democrats the election. Experts say the best, if not the only, reason for Obama to choose Clinton would be to heal those divisions.
One of the biggest knocks on Clinton is that she's divisive. Obama, by contrast, has run on the promise of uniting America, and he has appealed to some Republicans in the primaries.
"There are other ways to put this together," said Matthew Kerbel, a political scientist at Villanova University.
Such as choosing someone associated with Clinton and her husband, instead of her. Someone like New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Hispanic who endorsed Obama but served in President Clinton's Cabinet, or Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
Obama has appealed to independents, new voters and some Republicans, and "I think he just needs to make sure he runs with someone who doesn't undermine the message that's enabling him to reach out to those voters," Kerbel said. "There's a risk that she could."
The best modern example of a candidate choosing a running mate for party unity was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan tapped George Bush, his top rival for the nomination.
The two weren't close. But it worked because Bush became a perfect No. 2, even changing his stance on abortion.
"I think there's a real question if Hillary Clinton, being the big star that she is, would be willing to subordinate herself," professor Edwards said. "And would you believe it if she said she is? It's not that I think she's a liar, but the pressure would be enormous."
Wes Allison can be reached at [email protected] or (202) 463-0577.