WASHINGTON – Signaling her presidential 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.
Clinton raised the issue of the No. 2 spot in a 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. 21st,” McCarthy said in an interview. “And she said, ‘I would be open to accepting the vice presidential slot, if that’s what Senator Obama wanted.’ “
Speaking to reporters aboard Obama’s campaign plane Tuesday night, the candidate’s strategist, David Axelrod, batted away questions about a running mate.
“Obviously she’s an incredibly formidable person,” Axelrod said of Clinton. “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 already has 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 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 also has energized new voters – young and black – in record numbers. Put both candidates on the same ticket, and they would be assured of winning every important demographic group that leans Democratic, the thinking goes.
“It’s clear that she deserves consideration, because she’s won essentially half the votes,” said Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., a Clinton supporter. “It’s almost evenly split. And she would bring a lot to the ticket.”
But 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.
Another potential obstacle is Clinton’s husband, the former two-term president.
Bill Clinton enraged Obama voters by referring to his 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 Jesse Jackson’s success in that state 20 years ago.
More recently, Clinton had to apologize for his language in denouncing an article published in Vanity Fair magazine that criticized him for running with a fast crowd and associating with shady international businessmen since leaving the White House.
Clinton called the author, Todd 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.
An Obama-Clinton ticket poses other complications. Voters are already being asked to set aside any prejudice and elect the 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. “And I think for the American public to make a breakthrough to elect an African-American president is challenge enough. To ask the American public to accept both an African-American and a woman seems to me to be a stretch too far.”
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., D-Del., Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., Jack Reed, D-R.I., or Evan Bayh, D-Ind.
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