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Obama To Dump Biden From The Ticket In Favor Of Hillary? Give Me A Break

Jeff Fusco
Getty Images

This week's column was intended to focus on a primer for tomorrow's (Nov. 7) off-year elections. The election preview is below. But I wanted to get something out of the way first.

There still seems to be an idea out there that somehow Vice President Joe Biden is going to leave the 2012 Democratic ticket — by his own choice or otherwise — and be replaced by Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state who has long said she will depart the Cabinet after President Obama's first term.

Where this comes from I do not know. It certainly doesn't come from Clinton, who said on NBC last month that it's not "even in the realm of possibility and in large measure because I think Vice President Biden has done an amazingly good job."

/ Ken Rudin Collection
Ken Rudin Collection

Dumping a vice president from the ticket seems to be one of those evergreen stories that goes back decades. Richard Nixon was thought to be in trouble in retaining the number two spot on President Eisenhower's re-election ticket in 1956 — former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen led the Dump Nixon effort — but it never happened. Similarly, there was rumors of a move to dump Spiro Agnew from the 1972 GOP ticket and Dan Quayle's job was said to be in jeopardy 20 years later. But both men stayed. (Reports about Vice President Dick Cheney dumping President George W. Bush in 2004 were never confirmed.)

The thing is, no elected VP has been dropped from the ticket since 1944, when Henry Wallace was removed at the national convention that year in favor of Sen. Harry Truman (D-Mo.). And that turned out to be extremely significant, as President Franklin Roosevelt was dead less than three months after he was inaugurated for a fourth term.

We can talk about Joe Biden's penchant for making verbal gaffes until we're blue in the face, but he's not about to be dumped as Obama's running mate next year in favor of Hillary Clinton. And yet, not everyone is convinced. Bob Woodward's comments on CNN last year that a Biden-for-Clinton switch was "on the table" were met with an unsurprising ton of eye-rolling in Washington. But as Obama's numbers have fallen, along with the state of the economy, the rumors have resurfaced. Writing last month in Bloomberg View, Jonathan Alter argued that the "odds are long" of a switch ... "but it's definitely not impossible":

"If it's clear that Democrats need to do something dramatic to avoid losing the White House, the Switcheroo will happen.

Obama would swallow his pride and try to use wit to disarm attacks that he's acting desperate, cynical and weak. He would admit publicly that he needs the help of both Clintons to restore the good economic times of the 1990s. The Democrats' message would be: "Vote for Obama if you want the Clinton economy back. Vote for Romney if you want the Bush economy back." That's a compelling enough argument to make an imperiled president do something he would hate — let Bill Clinton drag him over the finish line. ...

The biggest reason for a Switcheroo would be if the gender gap that has proved essential to Democrats in recent elections were suddenly to close, sending Obama (whose current approval rating is a paltry 40 percent) even further south in the polls. With white men already lost (Obama got only 41 percent of them in 2008; 9 percent in Alabama), a historic ticket with an African-American and a woman would have little downside. ...

In a larger sense, the move would lend excitement to what will inevitably be a sour and dispiriting campaign. Imagine the unemployment rate doesn't budge and Obama goes into the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early September trailing by six points with a mere eight weeks until Election Day. The Switcheroo may be his only shot."

A few weeks later came this headline from the Suffolk University (Boston) poll: "Veepstakes: GOP Can Win with Rubio, but Dems Prevail with Hillary Clinton on Ticket." Here's more from the release:

While Obama struggles in the low 40 percent range on job performance and head-to-head matchups with Romney and Cain, he rockets to 50 percent when Hillary Clinton is added to the Democratic ticket. ...

"It's ironic that in the 2008 Democratic Primary, Barack Obama had to overthrow Clinton and the more traditional factions of the Democratic Party to win the nomination," said [polling director David] Paleologos. "Now Clinton has become the quantifiable lifeboat that could save a sinking Democratic ticket in 2012."

I know, this is the kind of stuff that has been part of the culture of political journalism for quite some time. But it's not grounded in reality and, personally, I think it makes us look silly ... as if we'll talk about anything in order to stir the pot. I got this e-mail the other day from Dee Evans of Plano, Texas, sent to various media outlets, which says in part:

"Hillary Clinton has said REPEATEDLY that she WILL NOT run in 2012! Barack Obama has said REPEATEDLY that he WILL NOT replace Joe Biden on the 2012 ticket! Joe Biden has said REPEATEDLY that he is ON-BOARD for the 2012 ticket! As Chris Christie once said, what does it take to get through to you people?! ...

Please stop trying to stir up controversy and sow seeds of conflict and report on some real news! You're better than this!"

We are. Or, we should be. Hillary Clinton is not going to replace Joe Biden on the 2012 ticket. And that settles it.

2011 Election Calendar. Here's what's at stake on Tuesday:


With four gov. races this year (2 last month and 2 on Tuesday), it looks like the incumbent party will not change in any of them.
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
With four gov. races this year (2 last month and 2 on Tuesday), it looks like the incumbent party will not change in any of them.

Kentucky — Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is seeking a second term. Despite rising unemployment and a failure to attract new jobs to the state, Beshear seems to be holding a comfortable lead over David Williams (R), the state senate president. While President Obama is not popular here, voters don't particularly like electing Republican governors — they've done it only once since 1967. Williams, who struggled in the GOP primary that included a Tea Party-backed candidate and whose own campaign has made several missteps, has failed to make a convincing argument against Beshear.

Mississippi -- Like Kentucky, Mississippi was for the longest time a safe Democratic state when it came to electing governors; the first time the GOP broke through (since Reconstruction) was in 1991. But now it is reliably Republican, and that trend should continue this year. Two-term GOP incumbent Haley Barbour, who remains extremely popular in the state, is barred from running again. His LG, Phil Bryant, holds a huge financial and polling lead over Johnny Dupree, the mayor of Hattiesburg. Dupree is the first African-American to win a major-party gov. nomination in state history.

Add these expected results to what happened in gov. races last month — Republican Bobby Jindal winning a landslide re-election in Louisiana, and West Virginia voters keeping Democratic acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin — and you pretty much have the status quo. Nothing in these contests can be interpreted as having any bearing on 2012 in any way.

State Legislature:

Iowa — 2010 was a big year for the GOP in many states, including Iowa, where Republican Terry Branstad unseated the Democratic governor and the party won a majority in the General Assembly. The Senate remained in Dem hands, though narrowly, by a 26-24 margin. That was reduced to one when Branstad named one of the Democratic senators to the state Utilities Board. And that has forced a special election on Tuesday, which will determine whether the Democrats keep their majority or if the Senate is tied.

Virginia — Since Obama carried the state in the 2008 presidential election, not much has gone right for the Democrats. They lost the governorship and the other two statewide offices in 2009, and now they are desperately trying to hold onto their one remaining base of power, the state Senate, which they control 22-18. They even redrew the lines of the districts in an effort to keep their majority. Republicans need two seats to win control — Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) would break a tie — and many think that's going to happen. If it does, watch for an effort to put Gov. Bob McDonnell on the short list for vice president next year.

Big City Mayors:

Most incumbents are favored on Tuesday, and that includes Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) in Baltimore, who became mayor in Feb. 2010 after her predecessor, Sheila Dixon (D), resigned after being convicted for embezzlement; Anthony Foxx (D) in Charlotte, N.C., who is the city's first black mayor since Harvey Gantt in the 1980s; Annise Parker in Houston, who became the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city mayor in 2009; Greg Ballard (R) in Indianapolis, whose victory over a Dem incumbent in 2007 was seen as a huge upset; and Michael Nutter (D) in Philadelphia, a city that hasn't elected a GOP mayor since 1947.

There is also a battle in Phoenix, where Mayor Phil Gordon is term-limited, and the ostensibly nonpartisan race between Wes Gullett (R) and Greg Stanton (D) has turned unusually nasty.

The big mayoral story this year is in San Francisco. Edwin Lee, the city's first Asian-American mayor, took office in January after Gavin Newsom was elected lt. gov. For the most part, Lee has gotten good marks for his efforts to create jobs and boost development. But there are several serious accusations of ethics charges being thrown at groups supporting Lee, allegations involving vote fraud and campaign finance violations. Lee has several challengers on Tuesday's ballot.


Ohio — If any contest has national implications, this may be it. After John Kasich was elected governor in 2010 and Republicans solidified their control over state government, the legislature passed a bill that severely limited the collective bargaining rights for public employees. This bill, controversial from the outset, was part of Kasich's effort to beat back a huge budget deficit. But at the same time it awoke a sleeping giant of organized labor, which has raised some $30 million — more than what was spent to elect Kasich last year — to put the bill on the ballot (Question #2) for voters to decide its fate. And by most accounts, the bill is about to be crushed on Tuesday. Democrats are hoping that the bill's defeat will awake their cobwebs and enter into 2012 in a far better frame of mind than they were after the shellacking they got last year.

Mississippi — "Personhood," an effort by anti-abortion activists to equate an embryo with a human being, is on the ballot and stands a good chance of passing. In effect, it would make the destruction of a fertilized egg an act of murder, not only banning all forms of abortion in the state but also potentially including the morning-after pill as a violation of the law. Both gov. candidates support the measure.

Oregon's 1st CD: Special primaries are being held to fill the congressional seat left vacant when Democrat David Wu resigned in August following accusations of sexual misconduct. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici is thought to be leading state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, with state Rep. Brad Witt trailing far behind. The GOP nominee is likely to be Rob Cornilles, who received 42% of the vote against Wu last year. In Oregon, the contests are vote-by-mail only. General election: Jan. 31.

On the air. I talked with NPR Weekend Edition Sunday host Audie Cornish yesterday on what's at stake in Tuesday's elections. You can listen to that stirring conversation here.

What to look for on Tuesday

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. I'll be there with up to the minute election returns on Tuesday night.

Ya think? Blurb on front page of Washington Post, 11/3/11: "Corzine in a free fall: The former New Jersey governor's latest business setback makes a Washington rebound unlikely."

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Last week's show focused on the allegations against Herman Cain and previewed this Tuesday's off-year elections. You can listen to the entire segment right here:

Last Wednesday's Junkie segment on TOTN

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Wednesday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced each week during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. It's not too late to enter last week's contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt! DON'T FORGET TO CHECK BACK HERE ON WEDNESDAY FOR THE NEW PUZZLE.

Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner-in-crime, Ron Elving, and me. Thanks to member station KUT in Austin, Texas, for affording me the opportunity to do the podcast from their studios. You can listen to it here:

Today in Iowa. I'll be yapping away about politics and political coverage this evening (Monday, Nov. 7) in Des Moines at an event sponsored by member station WOI. Click here for details.


Nov. 8 -- Election Day. Top races include gubernatorial contests in Kentucky (Steve Beshear, D, seeking 2nd term) and Mississippi (Haley Barbour, R, term limited). Also: primaries in Oregon's 1st CD (to succeed David Wu, D).

Nov. 9 — GOP presidential debate in Rochester, Mich., 8 pm ET (CNBC).

Nov. 10 — GOP debate, Exeter, N.H.

Nov. 12 — GOP debate, Spartanburg, S.C., 8 pm ET (CBS/National Journal)

Nov. 15 — Advocates of recall of Wis. Gov. Scott Walker (R) begin signature petition; must reach 540,000 within 60 days.

Nov. 19 — GOP candidate forum, Des Moines. Also: Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Des Moines.

Dec. 7 — Virginia Senate debate, Univ/VA at Charlottesville.

Dec. 10 — GOP debate, Des Moines (ABC News).

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

/ Ken Rudin Collection
Ken Rudin Collection

This day in campaign history: The presidential election between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore is too close to call. Neither Gore, who leads in the popular vote, nor Bush has the required 270 electoral votes needed for victory, as tallies in Florida remain unresolved (Nov. 7, 2000). After weeks of legal wrangling between the two sides, the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately reject Gore's appeal to recount Florida ballots, and the day after, on Dec. 13, Gore will concede the election.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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