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All You Need to Know About Obama's VP Options

Now that Obama has nearly clinched the nomination, who's on tap to be his running mate? Your guide to the contenders.

| Tue Jun. 3, 2008 2:00 AM EDT

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), 62
Webb recently took on John McCain on the GI Bill and showed that he wasn't intimidated. In characteristically gruff fashion, he said that McCain, who opposed the bill because he feared it would decrease retention rates, was "full of it." It was reminiscent of when Webb, in a reception at the White House soon after his election in 2006, refused to take a photo with President Bush and told him off when Bush asked about Webb's son, who was then serving in Iraq.

Incidents like that one have helped to forge Webb's reputation as the Democratic Party's ballsiest member. A former Marine, Webb has earned a Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts. He was secretary of the navy in the 1980s (though he is now actively opposed to the Iraq War), and two of his recent books are called Born Fighting and A Time to Fight. Sense a theme?

But if Webb doesn't sound too much like a Democrat, that's because he wasn't one until recently. He held that secretary of the navy post during the Reagan administration. He was once quoted calling liberals "cultural Marxists." In 2000 he assailed affirmative action as "state-sponsored racism," and in 2004 he wrote that John Kerry should have been condemned for his opposition to the Vietnam War.

But Webb says that the GOP lost him. As a former Republican, he serves Obama's unity theme. As VP, Webb could hit the trail saying to Reagan Democrats and moderate Republicans, "I used to find answers in the Republican Party, too. But it got too extreme, too corrupt, and too hawkish." And Webb's conversion looks thorough: He now has a 100 percent NARAL rating, supports same-sex civil unions, opposes the death penalty, and is an advocate for prison reform.

But for the foreign policy credentials, the ability to put Virginia in play, and the outsized personality (Terence Samuel noted in the American Prospect, "some Democrats see in [Webb] attributes they long for in their party — conviction, strength, and a willingness to fight"), Webb has one thing that may keep him off the ticket: a horrible record on women's rights. He wrote a 1979 article titled "Women Can't Fight," making the argument that women are biologically unsuited for combat. He called the Naval Academy "a horny woman's dream." At a 1991 gathering of naval aviators known as Tailhook, widespread sexual assault/harassment of female attendees took place; Webb publicly denounced the military's subsequent attempt to clean up shop. He called the investigation a "witch hunt."

Capping the defeat of the first nearly successful female presidential candidate by putting a one-time spouter of chauvinism on the ticket might be a seriously dumb idea for the Democrats. "It would be seen as a big 'screw you' to Hillary's supporters and to feminists in general," writes blogger Kathy G.

Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.), 64
Obama needs Pennsylvania the way fish need water. One reason Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary so decisively was Rendell's support. He served two terms as Philadelphia's district attorney, followed by two terms as the city's mayor. (The New York Times called his tenure "the most stunning turnaround in recent urban history.") Then Rendell took a year to chair the Democratic National Committee before running for governor. He won twice statewide. He brings a roadmap for success in the Keystone State and valuable executive experience.

That long resume in public service, however untainted by Washington as it may be, could be a deficiency if it is perceived as clashing with Obama's agent-of-change theme. A bigger disadvantage, however, is Rendell's seemingly genetic inability to stay on message. He has a long history of problematic truth telling, including his claim that Obama would struggle in Pennsylvania because "You've got conservative whites here...who are not ready to vote for an African American candidate." Rendell would be an irrepressible personality in a position that sometimes calls for self-suppression. No presidential candidate wants to be upstaged by his or her running mate.

Rendell also brings no foreign policy background, and his age is no asset. The fact that he is Jewish, however, could help Obama in Florida and with Jews nationwide who question Obama's commitment to Israel. But there's always the other hand: Is America ready for a ticket that includes a fellow whom a significant number of Americans still believes is a secret Muslim, and a Jew?

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), 60
His impressive resume—former Secretary of Energy, former UN Ambassador, 15 years in Congress, two-term governor—provided the justification for his presidential run, but Richardson couldn't translate it into support with voters. He was often something of a sideshow and failed to convince voters that he was worthy of serious consideration.

Richardson's history of negotiating with tough characters around the globe would lend credence to Obama on his biggest split from foreign policy orthodoxy. And Richardson could help Obama with Latino voters in swing states like Nevada and Colorado (and deliver New Mexico's five electoral votes). Minor concern: Does the Democratic Party want Richardson to be its best-positioned member for a 2016 run for the presidency?

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), 61
An unlikely choice, no doubt. But selecting Hagel, an outspoken anti-war Republican, would be a powerful signal that Obama will walk the walk, and not just talk the talk, when it comes to reaching out to like-minded Republicans. The two-term senator has foreign policy credentials and unlike most other moderate Republicans who have gone queasy on the war on Iraq, Hagel actually votes with the Democrats nowadays.

But although Hagel has become something of a progressive darling because of his tough talk on the Bush administration, he is a bedrock conservative on most domestic issues. His Planned Parenthood rating was 0 percent in 2006. His League of Conservation Voters rating was 20 percent in 2007. These are likely deal breakers.

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