While much of the current political focus is squarely on the ever-expanding pool of Republicans candidates seeking to unseat the incumbent in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama faces an uphill battle to win a second term.
A deepening economic malaise, stubbornly high national unemployment, an unsatisfactory debt ceiling deal and the latest catastrophe – Standard & Poor’s downgrading of the U.S. government’s long-term credit rating – present daunting challenges for Obama to overcome.
The President is also facing some disaffection among his own Democratic base. With all these headwinds, Obama desperately needs to re-energize his flagging re-election hopes.
Some analysts have speculated that perhaps he should dump his vice president. Joe Biden.
Alan Steinberg, a New Jersey-based political analyst who writes at PolitickerNJ.com, recently speculated that Obama could replace Biden with liberal freshman senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina (not coincidentally, the 2012 Democratic convention will be held in Charlotte).
Steinberg explained his reasoning this way: “North Carolina is the decisive state in the 2012 election. The presidential candidate who wins North Carolina will win the election. Second, in unseating former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008, Hagan demonstrated superb political and communication skills that would make her a definite asset to the Obama re-election campaign.”
Steinberg added: “In the 2012 Presidential race, in North Carolina, history favors the Republicans, while demographics and recent trends favor Obama. If Obama selects Kay Hagan as his running mate, he will be a definite favorite to win North Carolina, the decisive state in the 2012 presidential race, and with that, his re-election.”
(Presumably, since Biden’s home state of Delaware is now firmly Democratic, so losing Biden won’t do any harm there – plus it has a very small population).
Picking Hagan, who is solidly pro-abortion rights, might also appeal to liberal female Democrats who were perturbed that their candidate, Hilary Clinton, lost the nomination in 2008.
Diane Mantouvalos, creator of the feminist website HireHeels.com, reportedly said: “I’d say few if any Hillary supporters have warmed up to [Obama]…I certainly hope that changes by 2012, but it’s too late for women to feel like they’re doing better than they were three or four years ago.”
But Steinberg further suggests that Biden will not be completely forsaken – he could move in as the new secretary of state to supplant Hillary Clinton, who reportedly wants to step down even if Obama wins again.
Another analyst has a different spin on this topic -- former New York Republican Chairman William Powers recently told the New York Post that he thinks Obama will replace Biden with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, citing the governor’s triumphant legislative moves with the property-tax cap and gay marriage, among others.
"I don't think there's any doubt Obama is going to pick him as his running mate,” Powers told the Post. “The president is in trouble, and Biden doesn't bring anything to his ticket.”
The ex-mayor of San Francisco, Democrat Willie Brown, has also suggested Cuomo might get the nod.
However, some political scholars are highly skeptical of the likelihood of such a scenario.
“There is zero chance of this happening,” said Jamie Chandler, a political science professor at Hunter College in New York City.
“Changing VPs would harm the president’s credibility. The 2012 election hinges on how voters perceive the president is handling the economy. A change in VPs would do nothing to improve that perception.”
Moreover, despite some criticism, Biden has many attractive qualities as a vice president.
“[President Obama] chose Biden in 2008 to balance the ticket with the foreign policy experience that he lacked,” said Chandler.
“Biden’s long tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee contributed significantly to Obama’s candidacy. Biden is also a strong Senate insider – he has long experience with the key players – so Obama’s expectation was that this would be very helpful.”
Chandler added: “Basically, the Biden choice helped the president be a more credible candidate.”
In addition, Chandler noted, “his background and experience helps the president with a lot of behind-the-scenes activities required to negotiate legislative policy.”
“Biden also has a lot of credibility amongst many key special interests that the president needs for ongoing support (e.g. unions, business), and he provides strong input on foreign policy decisions, especially those related to Afghanistan and Iraq," citing Biden's role in planning the Osama bin Laden raid.
On the other hand, it is debatable how important a vice president choice really is in the success of a presidential campaign.
Philip Edward Jones, assistant professor of political science at the University of Delaware (Biden’s alma mater) said that historically the vice presidential nominee has had very little direct impact on the outcome of presidential elections..
“Sometimes the choice of a VP nominee may reflect on the presidential nominee in some way -- e.g. the choice suggests that the presidential nominee is a good or bad decision-maker, or that they surround themselves with trustworthy advisors or cronies -- and could affect voting decisions indirectly in that way,” he said.
“People don't vote for a president because of their running mate -- unless the choice of running mate suggests something about what kind of president they would be.”
Jones also indicated that rumors of a vice president being removed are nothing new.
“Dick Cheney was rumored to be replaced by Condoleezza Rice in 2004; and Al Gore was rumored to be replaced by Hillary Clinton in 1996, and so on,” he said.
“I wouldn't put much stock in the rumors at all.”
However, the dumping of a VP has happened at least once before in U.S. history.
Chandler pointed out that Vice President John C. Calhoun resigned from President Andrew Jackson’s re-election ticket in 1831, when Jackson decided to drop him in favor of Martin Van Buren. In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt dumped Henry Wallace for Harry Truman, who became president on FDR's death a few months later.
More importantly, Obama must appeal on his liberal core constituency to win the 2012 banner, rather than worry about who his No. 2 is.
“The president must move left not right over the next several months," Chandler stated.
“The liberal Democrats are very upset with the president’s pattern of compromise on his signature agenda items: e.g. dropping the public option during healthcare reform negotiations; extending the Bush tax cuts during budget negotiations, and conceding a number of points to the Republicans during debt limit discussions. The general perception amongst likely Democratic voters is that the president is too moderate. The president must win back this core constituency because they’ll play a heavy role in mobilizing fundraising and voters during election season.”
In short, Chandler concluded, Obama needs to revive the excitement he inspired among his supporters in 2008.