Quick takes and updates on national and local politics and political personalities.
Let's start with local vice presidential and Cabinet possibilities. This one is easy. Contrary to speculation, there are none.
The most highly qualified Washington politician is U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, who has a long and solid background in national security issues. He would bring badly needed experience in that field to an Obama-headed ticket or as Defense Secretary. But, thus far, his name has not been included on any short or long lists of running-mate or Cabinet possibilities. Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have been mentioned locally as possible vice-presidential candidates. King County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels have had their names floated as possible federal appointees.
It is conceivable that Sims or Nickels might receive sub-Cabinet appointments in a Democratic administration. I personally would welcome their departures from Seattle and replacement by more capable successors. But I consider it a long shot that such offers would be made to them.
This will-local-kids-make-good speculation happens in all 50 states as a national election nears. Sometimes local candidates float their own names in the hope that the presidential candidate or his managers will notice them. At other times campaigns take the initiative to float local names so as to stimulate support in their states — and greater effort by Those Mentioned in the general election campaign.
It is helpful to examine these possibilities from the perspective of the presidential candidate. There are three questions which would be asked: Would the presence of a Gregoire, Murray, or Cantwell on the national ticket make the difference between winning and losing in Washington and, possibly, other states? Would Gregoire, Murray, or Cantwell bring the national-security credentials to the ticket which Obama needs in his running mate? Finally, would any of the three, if elected vice president, be ready on Day One to assume the presidency if called on to do so?
Other running-mate matters
As I discussed in a Crosscut piece earlier this week, Sen. Barack Obama ran into difficulty in the wake of disclosures regarding the chair of his vice-presidential selection team, former Fannie Mae chair Jim Johnson, and one of the other two team members, former Deputy Attorney General (in the Clinton administration) Eric Holder.
As Fannie Mae chair, Johnson had what appear to be conflicts of interest in securing several million dollars in below-market-rate personal mortgage loans from Countrywide Financial, now under scrutiny for securities law violations. Attention also was focused on Johnson's huge compensation, both as Fannie Mae chair and as a later Fannie Mae consultant, which might have flowed from book-cooking practices during his tenure. His successor, ex-Seattleite Frank Raines, got nailed for such trangressions. Ex-Fannie Mae employees allege they began with Johnson.
Holder gained notoriety when, at the end of the Clinton administration, he rubber-stamped pardons and commutations for fugitive financier Marc Rich and others without checking them out with federal prosecutors or the FBI.
Johnson relinquished his role Wednesday morning, June 11. His and Obama's statements left doubt whether Johnson quit or was fired. It makes little difference. Johnson, a longtime Washington, D.C., insider, certainly knew that he would remain in a glaring spotlight so long as he kept the responsibility. Media now will be less inclined to pursue the allegations against him aggressively. Holder, a co-chair of Obama's campaign, was still on the job Wednesday afternoon. He may or may not be able to withstand the pressures that brought down Johnson.
Obama's original response to the flap was to say that he could hardly be expected "to vet the vetters." That was an unacceptable copout. Some 24 hours later, he opened the trap door for Johnson.
Had he been paying proper attention, Obama would not have appointed Johnson and Holder to their roles in the first place. Their past conduct is exactly the conduct which he has said he wants to eliminate from the capital culture. I favored Obama strongly for the Democratic nomination and continue to support his election to the presidency. He has had several prior embarrassments in his campaign and has taken longer to deal with them. Let us hope they do not keep arising and, if they do, he will cut them off even more quickly than he did this time.
Johnson and Holder, it should be noted, spent several days in high-visibility consultation with Democratic congressional and other leaders regarding their running-mate preferences. This was window dressing. The real vetting is taking place behind the scenes, with review of polling data and background checks. The consultations would have been meaningful only if they yielded a consensus that one or another prospective vice-presidential nominee was wholly unacceptable.
Local congressional races
Several media surveys have suggested that former Microsoft manager Darcy Burner now has a chance to defeat U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, in the 8th Distict race, thus providing the only 2008 opportunity for a challenger to overturn an incumbent in the state's delegation. Running strongly in Burner's favor is the fact that Democrats stand to gain both U.S. House and Senate seats nationally — there is a clear trend in that direction — and that the tide might help her. She also will equal or surpass Reichert's campaign fundraising. Factors in Reichert's favor: Incumbents tend to get stronger, term by term, as they cement their political bases in their districts. Burner came across as weak and unprepared in her losing 2006 race against Reichert. Put this race down as "competitive" but no sure gain for Democrats.
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