- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

Barack Obama has considerable time to undergo the kind of vetting process he will need to select the best possible running mate. He already has exposed his hand (unlike his chief opponent, Republican John McCain.) The most important factor is putting together a winning ticket now that Democratic primary and caucus voters have proven that theirs is a party deeply divided.

Mr. Obama announced his vice-presidential selection team following his victory over Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. Already, he has come under fire, and rightly so. Mr. Obama is being criticized for naming former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder as one of three people vetting his vice-presidential selection. Mr. Holder (who had previously served as the top federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia), failed to notify the Justice Department and New York prosecutors during the Clinton administration’s consideration of a pardon for Marc Rich - the tax-evading, illegal-trading, racketeer billionaire, who avoided prosecution by fleeing to Switzerland and renouncing his citizenship. Then-President Clinton pardoned Mr. Rich during the closing days of his second term.

Mr. Obama’s process has to be unassailable, thorough and deliberative. It should involve extensive background checks and include candidates whose ideology strengthens the Democratic Party’s appeal to independents and weakens the pull of Mr. Obama’s own ultraliberal positions. Mr. Obama has to be clear about what he wants in a vice president. Geography is a huge consideration. Mr. Obama’s troubles with voters in Midwestern majority-white and blue-collar voting blocs are real and will require someone who can deeply connect with those voters. Picking someone who shares Mr. Obama’s values and his vision for the future but bring something to the table he lacks is key. The running mate must be in sync with Mr. Obama and appear to be willing to carry out Mr. Obama’s policies should he become unable to complete his term. (Consider John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.)

The Obama vetting team is small and includes Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, and Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign manager, Jim Johnson, who also chaired the vice-presidential selection process for John Kerry in 2004. Mr. Obama said neither he nor his selection committee will be talking to the press about the details until he is ready to announce his choice. That is wise, because making the process an exercise in consensus-building proved costly for Mr. Mondale, who in 1984 selected Geraldine Ferraro after dozens of meetings with party activists. But that squandered time that would have been better used uncovering the questionable real-estate dealings of Mrs. Ferraro’s husband. On the other hand, her selection obviously satisfied the overarching goal of pandering to feminists.

Mr. Obama’s major weaknesses (in addition to his liberalism) are his limited experience regarding national security and foreign relations, his lack of executive experience and the fact that his campaign has focused on domestic issues. Two names that already have passed the lips of Democrats are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Hispanic and former candidate who also served as U.N. ambassador, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who also served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both would add foreign-affairs and executive status to the Obama campaign. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas - like Hillary Clinton, who suspended her campaign on Saturday and endorsed Mr. Obama - would certainly garner measurable support from women voters. She is a native of Ohio, a state Mr. Obama lost to Mrs. Clinton.

The vice-presidential selection process can easily become an exercise in attributing too much credit to a specific voting bloc. Yet no voting bloc (especially those based on gender, race or class) is monolithic. The makeup of the Obama selection panel speaks volumes about the hand that he and the Democratic Party are playing against the McCain campaign and the Republican Party.

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