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The Right Way To Speculate About Veeps

Just a quick thought on Obama's VP deliberations per yesterday's post on all the people being mentioned, Jim Jones among them. If you go through that list--which, according to MSNBC, includes Jones, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, Kathleen Sebelius, Ted Strickland, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Jim Webb, Bill Nelson, Jack Reed, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Tom Daschle, and Sam Nunn--you see people who'd bring vastly different assets.

I spot at least five (overlapping) groups: People who could help unite the party (namely Hillary), add national security bona fides (Jones, Kerry, Webb, Reed, Biden, Nunn), appeal to a swing constituency (Sebelius, Strickland, Warner, Kaine, Webb, Nelson, Nunn), who would signal "ready to be president on day one" (Hillary, Kerry, Biden, Dodd, Daschle, Nunn), and who would double-down on Obama's non-traditional pol/outsider/change message (Jones, Sebelius, Kaine, Warner, Webb).

Once you break it up this way, it's tempting to look at the most compelling people in each category and call them "first tier," the next most compelling people in each category and call them "second tier," and so on. But, in reality, I don't think it works that way. I suspect Obama has a pretty good idea of what he values and doesn't value in a running mate, which means there are entire groups whose members have almost no chance of getting the nod, and entire groups whose member have a decent chance.

For example, it would be tempting to say that Biden (probably the leading contender in "ready on day one") and Webb or Sebelius (leading contenders in the outsider/change category) have roughly equal chances of being named VP. But I'd guess Obama has on some level already decided whether he wants to send a "ready on day one" message or an "extra helping of change" message. And so, in reality, either Biden has a great shot, or Webb and Sebelius have a great shot, but they don't all have a great shot.

All of which is to say that while all VP speculation is essentially pointless, speculating about what Obama's looking for may be slightly more productive than who Obama's looking for.

P.S. Peter Beinart and Jonah Goldberg had some good thoughts in this vein in their recent bloggingheads appearance.

Update: A commenter urges me to add Bill Richardson to the list, in the outsider/change category. I left him out because he wasn't on First Read's list, whose authors noted that anyone they didn't include (throw Wes Clark in there, too) had basically fallen out of the running. That may or may not be true, but that's who I was relying on for my baseline.

--Noam Scheiber