Show of hands: Who here still thinks Vice President Joseph R. Biden will be on the 2012 ticket?
Really? All of you? So wrong. The Great One, Sir Barack Hussein Obama, will replace the bumbling, buffoonish Mr. Biden with Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, maybe at the Democratic convention, maybe just before, in a last-ditch effort to win re-election.
The wild and crazy move is all the talk outside the Beltway. One state Democratic leader even tells me the bumper stickers are already printed, sitting in a warehouse in (where else?) Little Rock, Ark. Another party bigwig says she is “99.9 percent sure” the increasingly desperate president planned the whole thing from the beginning. (“C’mon, Hill, be Secretary of State for one term and I’ll make you veep the next!”)
Step back a minute: What does the president get from keeping Punxsutawney Putz on the ticket? Zippy the chimp. But if he bails on Mr. Biden, picks a woman — bam, base enthusiasm goes through the roof, women come out of the woodwork to vote (for Mrs. Clinton, not for Mr. Obama), and it’s 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for another four years. (Plus, Joe becomes Secretary of State, because, really now, he wouldn’t know what to do if he wasn’t living off the government teat, would he?)
Back to the president’s desperation. As The Washington Times laid out last week, Mr. Obama’s re-election is no lock. “Many models show President Obama with a likely base of 252 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win,” the paper said. Nice lead. He’s got a hold of the West Coast, the Northeast minus New Hampshire, plus most likely Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Hawaii (although some of those are still considered in play).
The Republican candidate starts out with just 191 solid. But get this: Ohio and Florida, the big gets, are tough sells for the failing president, as are Virginia and North Carolina (which this month voted down gay marriage, Mr. Obama’s new signature issue). Combined, the four states hold 75 electoral votes. Suddenly, Mitt Romney’s at 266 to Mr. Obama’s 252.
Make no mistake, the couch sitters in the Oval Office are well aware of these numbers. They know that, like Sen. John McCain last cycle, they’re going to need a game changer. Bad.
Enter Hillary. As Secretary of State, she has visited 165 countries, racking up 750,000 miles in the air, according to the State Department. She also happened to win 18 million votes in the 2008 primaries. Last month, her favorable rating hit an all-time high of 65 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll — just 27 percent viewed her unfavorably. Contrast that with Mr. Biden, whose favorable rating was 41 percent, with a whopping 44 percent unfavorable, according to a Fox News poll last week.
But here’s the shocker: In April, Mr. Obama held a 49 percent to 43 percent lead over Mr. Romney among women. That has now flipped to 46 percent backing Mr. Romney with 44 percent for Mr. Obama — an 8-point swap, according to the latest CBS-New York Times poll.
Mr. Romney was right in his New Hampshire speech: The president, who has failed to fix the economy or create jobs, “will run a campaign of diversions, distractions and distortions.” What else explains the weeks and weeks spent talking about contraception and gay marriage? No, the last thing the president plans to talk about is his record on the economy.
Moreover, Mr. Obama won office in 2008 in what was much more a movement than a campaign — all that hope and change. (Did he mention that he was black?) This time around, he’s nothing more than a craven politician running another vapid say-anything campaign. But flipping Joe for Hillary makes 2012 another revolution, not for the first black president, but for the first female vice president.
Even more, Mrs. Clinton helps with exactly the voters now abandoning Mr. Obama in droves: white, working- and middle-class Americans.
They voted for her in 2008, bailed in 2010, but could come back if she joins the ticket in 2012. Mr. Obama signaled as much last week, talking to graduating seniors at a commencement. “After decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, you are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation and of this world,” he said.
Seven incumbents have replaced original running mates over the years: Five won re-election. Why’d they do it? Desperation.
Michelle Obama won’t like it (“I’m the most powerful woman in Washington!”), but her husband no doubt knows it may just be his only path to re-election. And in Chicagoland, the ends justify the means — every time.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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