The vice-presidential candidate is the equivalent of a software patch for a White House wannabe, designed to cover up the latter’s weaknesses. The choice provides an insight into a candidates’ electoral strategy.
Barack Obama chose Joe Biden who is everything he isn’t: an experienced foreign policy hand and long-standing Washington insider.
John McCain did almost the same thing.
His running mate, Sarah Palin, is a young woman, ultraconservative and even less experienced in Beltway politics than Obama.
What do we learn from these choices? Obama clearly sees foreign policy as his Achilles’ heel. The convention was strewn with eulogies to soldiers, endorsements from ex-generals. The biggest chunk of the Democratic platform is dedicated to foreign policy.
McCain, on the other hand, needs to shore up his standing with the conservative wing of his party. Palin — fiercely anti-abortion and pro-gun – has long been a favourite among them.
And she blunts Obama’s anti-establishment sheen. Says Ashley Wills of the Washington lobbyist firm WilmerHale, “She’s as qualified as Obama to be president.” As governor she was famous for cleaning up Alaska’s corrupt Republican leadership.
Both candidates have their eye on the undecided vote — mostly white working class backers of Hillary Clinton. Biden, who comes from a blue-collar Catholic family, has some traction with them. So might Palin, especially among disaffected female Clinton supporters.
Notably absent this US election are “favourite sons” — vice-presidential choices who bring in a populous state or a region. Biden and Palin come from states with few voters.
Neither candidate chose not to buttress their economic credentials, preferring a more class-based strategy. “McCain doesn’t see the economy as much a personal political weakness as most analysts,” says Tim Adams of the Lindsey Group.
“He preferred to go outside Washington to cast himself as the real agent of change.”
Biden and Palin are reputed to be pugnacious behind podiums. This will allow the presidential candidates to take the high road and let the running mates slug it out.
Biden’s ability to be a “forceful advocate and hatchet man,” says pollster Craig Charney, was among the top three reasons Obama chose him.
Many feel Biden will make mincemeat of her. “He’s chosen Dan Quayle in a skirt,” says Charney, referring to the hapless 1993 Republican running mate.
Others are less sure, noting Palin’s nickname among her friends is “Barracuda.”