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CAMPAIGN '08: THE DEMOCRATS

'Dream' ticket? Clinton willing, but some see nightmare

June 04, 2008|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Signaling that her campaign is at an end, Hillary Rodham Clinton told allies in Congress on Tuesday that she would be interested in serving as vice president, increasing public pressure on Barack Obama to consider her as a way to unify the Democratic Party and create a strong ticket for the fall election.

Sen. Clinton raised the issue of the No. 2 spot in a private 45-minute conference call with congressional Democrats as part of a discussion about mending rifts in the party and beating the Republicans in November, said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), who was on the call.

"She basically has always said she'll do whatever it takes for a Democrat to be in the White House come Jan. 21," McCarthy said in an interview. "And she said, 'I would be open to accepting the vice presidential slot, if that's what Sen. Obama wanted.' "

Speaking to reporters aboard Obama's campaign plane Tuesday night, the Illinois senator's strategist, David Axelrod, batted away questions about a running mate.

"Obviously she's an incredibly formidable person," Axelrod said. "We knew that going in. She's proven it during this campaign. But it's way too early to talk about that."

Obama said last month that Clinton would be "on anybody's short list" for the vice presidency. He has already assigned aides to vet vice presidential prospects.

The prospect of a "dream ticket," as some have labeled an Obama-Clinton pairing, has been touted by some Democratic leaders as a way to compensate for the weaknesses and exploit the strengths of both candidates.

Throughout the five-month primary season, Obama has had difficulty winning the support of white blue-collar voters, while Clinton has established a loyal following among that slice of the electorate. But he has also energized new voters -- young and black -- in record numbers. Put both candidates on the same ticket, the thinking goes, and they would be assured of winning every important demographic group that leans Democratic.

"It's clear that she deserves consideration because she's won essentially half the votes," said Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-Pa.), a Clinton supporter. "It's almost evenly split. And she would bring a lot to the ticket."

Clinton is no slam-dunk for VP. The two candidates haven't exhibited much affection for each other in the course of the protracted, contentious primary race.

"You're likable enough, Hillary," Obama said during one debate.

In December, Clinton questioned Obama's character, conviction and courage, and seemed to relish the thought of attacking him. "Well, now the fun part starts," she said.

Their respective staffs have also fought, mocking each other, on occasion, in private e-mails sent back and forth.

Another potential obstacle is Clinton's husband, the former two-term president.

Bill Clinton enraged Obama voters by referring to the senator's opposition to the Iraq war as a "fairy tale." The ex-president was also accused of injecting race into the campaign by likening Obama's victory in the South Carolina primary to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's success in that state two decades earlier.

More recently, Clinton had to apologize for his language in denouncing an article published in Vanity Fair magazine that characterized the former president as running with a fast crowd and associating with shady international businessmen since leaving the White House. Clinton called the author, Todd S. Purdum, "sleazy" and "slimy" -- and worse.

With Obama promising a new brand of politics, some elected officials believe that putting Bill Clinton in proximity to the White House is a dangerous idea.

"My concern is less with Hillary Clinton as vice president than with former President Bill Clinton running around the White House with a whole lot of free time on his hands," said New York State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, an Obama supporter.

Proponents of the former president countered that whatever emotions Bill Clinton stoked during the campaign, his legacy is safe.

"President Clinton has a lot of fans," said Tony Podesta, a Democratic strategist and Hillary Clinton supporter. "In the course of a campaign, things get said and feelings get raw. But at the end of the day, he will be revered as a former president."

An Obama-Clinton ticket poses other complications. Voters are already being asked to set aside any prejudice and elect the nation's first black president.

"When you're trying to break the first glass ceiling, it doesn't make sense to double-pane it," said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who is not aligned in the race.

A more promising alternative, Hart said, would be for Obama to go with a white male who is solid on national security and foreign policy, such as Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Jack Reed of Rhode Island or Evan Bayh of Indiana.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

Times staff writers Janet Hook and Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.

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