Memo to Netroots: Stop Tearing Down Obama's VP Shortlist

If the left is ever going to get serious about winning elections, we need to stop insisting on 100% ideological purity from our candidates. News flash: politics is about assembling winning coalitions.
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(UPDATE 8/23: As the world found out via text message shortly after 3:00 AM EST, my wife and I both lost our bet. Kudos to Steve Clemons for having accurate info all week long about Joe Biden being Obama's impending pick.

Biden's been on the national stage since he led the fight against Robert Bork's extreme right wing Supreme Court nomination in 1987, but stepping into the VP nominee spotlight, he'll probably surprise people who think they know him. For someone who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden may be the most average Joe in the Senate, with a middle class bankroll (ranked 99th in net worth out of 100 Senators in 2005), and a daily commute to Washington on Amtrak from his home in Wilmington, Delaware. His wife, Jill, is a full-time educator at Delaware Technical and Community College.)

(UPDATE 8/21: As the veepstakes drag on, my wife's prediction is looking better and better. Yesterday, Team Obama swiftly issued a denial of press reports that he would be at an event in Indianapolis on Saturday following the VP roll-out in Springfield, IL, which sounds suspiciously like an attempt to keep the secret in the bag).

My wife and I have a bet on who Barack Obama will choose as his vice presidential nominee. She says Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), while my money's on Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. But the more I think about Bayh, and the mini-controversy surrounding his name being in contention, the more I'm convinced I may be backing the wrong horse.

Bayh would bring a lot of strengths to an Obama ticket. He's got experience as a former two-term Governor and has served in the Senate since 1999. He is a politically moderate former chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, and would provide ideological balance to Obama's progressive credentials. He could carry his home state of Indiana for the Democrats, a reliably Republican bastion that John McCain is counting on to get to 270 electoral votes.

Most importantly, Bayh would help attract votes for Obama in the battleground Midwest, the most hotly contested region in the country. In 2004, John Kerry swept the Northeast and West Coast by large margins, and George W. Bush won by landslides in the South, Rocky Mountain West and Great Plains. However, the popular vote in the Midwest was an exact tie - 49.6% to 49.6%.

Yet a group of netroots activists are trying to scuttle Bayh's chances of getting the VP nod. Last week the New York Times ran a profile of Bayh that reminded us he co-sponsored the Iraq War Resolution in 2003, and the next day activists set up a Facebook group called "100,000 Strong Against Evan Bayh for VP."

The effort fell short of its call to arms to "grow this group to 100,000 in a day and send a clear message to the Obama campaign," with 3,794 members as of Monday afternoon. Still, noted liberal bloggers like Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon and OpenLeft's Chris Bowers and Matt Stoller signed on, as word of the campaign spread through the blogosphere and immediately attracted press coverage.

Over the weekend, Washington insider Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation posted on his blog that "sources close to Obama report to me that after the 'surge of concern' on the net about Evan Bayh, he has not been selected as Obama's VP running mate." Bloggers fanning the flames of the Bayh "reverse draft" promptly rejoiced. But if any leaks dissing Bayh are coming out of the previously ironclad, no-drama Obama machine, it's likely he was never going to be the VP pick.

The Obama camp has already shown it couldn't care less what the netroots think by its handling of the FISA wiretap issue. Which is a smart move, because netroots bloggers are a lot more irrelevant than most of them would like to believe.

This primary season, the darling presidential candidate of the blogosphere was not Obama, but John Edwards, the candidate running for president while hiding a big secret. No one can be blamed for not realizing Edwards was concealing an affair, yet his constant missteps throughout the campaign showed terrible political judgement.

Just as Howard Dean's support from bloggers in 2004 never materialized into off-line, real world votes, Edwards' campaign sputtered out in '08 after a series of mostly third place finishes in the early contests. As Obama caught fire, building an enormous online fundraising machine and winning votes without the endorsement or support of some of the biggest name liberal bloggers, some of them felt sidelined.

Is this why the netroots are wasting time and energy tearing down one of Obama's potential VP choices? I hope not.

A few of the same bloggers now campaigning against Bayh were lukewarm on Obama from the start. Amanda Marcotte was actually hired by Edwards in early 2007 as a campaign blogger before resigning in controversy over some of her incendiary past blog postings attacking Catholicism. Bowers posted an "Obama Campaign Post-Mortem" in October, 2007 that proclaimed "losing the netroots has been the downfall of Barack Obama's campaign." Following Obama's FISA vote, Stoller accused the presumptive nominee of being "part of that old politics, in this case, that he said he wasn't. It will spur us to challenge him."

The anti-Bayh Facebook group labels him "a career legacy politician who fell hook, line, and sinker for the administration's case for a disastrous war." But like John Edwards eventually renounced his vote for the Iraq War, Bayh also admits he was wrong. "Senator Bayh has shown the judgment that we need to admit that mistakes were made and we need to learn from them," said a Bayh spokesman. Since the netroots took the credibility-challenged Edwards at his word when he apologized for his Iraq vote, why can't Bayh catch the same break?

Some activists have also voiced problems with Evan Bayh (and Tim Kaine) for their less than total support for the pro-choice agenda. Bayh's record on abortion rights is mixed. In 2003, he received a 50% rating from NARAL, although in 2006, the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee gave him a 25% rating.

The pro-choice movement has lost a lot of ground over the past few decades. The right has made a concerted effort to pack the federal judiciary with rabidly conservative, anti-choice judges. Their ultimate goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade, and return us to the days of back alley abortions. Now they're only one Supreme Court seat away from a solid anti-choice majority.

Obama's pro-choice record is pretty stellar. If he selects a vice presidential nominee who has triangulated on the abortion issue, should pro-choice activists sit out the election? Not voting for Obama means helping elect John McCain and flushing Roe v. Wade right down the toilet. This is not rocket science.

And as McCain made clear last week, he might make a play for disaffected Hillary Democrats by choosing a VP who's pro-choice, like former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. "We need to accept both points of view," said Ridge about running with McCain. "He's not judgemental about me or my belief. He just disagrees with me."

If the left is ever going to get serious about winning elections, we need to stop insisting on 100% ideological purity from our candidates. News flash to progressives: politics is about assembling winning coalitions. In 2004, only 23% of Americans described themselves as liberal, versus 26% middle of the road and 32% conservative. Unless you're running to represent a constituency that's dependably left of center, it's almost impossible to get elected without appealing to the middle.

So here's a message for the netroots. If Obama picks Evan Bayh, or Tim Kaine, or someone else who you don't agree with on every issue, get over it. Look at the realities of the political map. Save your fire for the real enemy, the GOP slime machine that's trying its best to render Obama unelectable. Encourage readers of your blogs to volunteer for the Obama campaign to register new voters. Conduct opposition research on John McCain's short list, post the findings, and set up Facebook groups opposing some of them for VP. Otherwise, by screwing around with Obama's VP selection, you're doing McCain's work for him.

Erik Ose is a veteran of Democratic campaigns in North Carolina and blogs at The Latest Outrage.

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