Clinton torn between caution and risk in VP pick

Hillary Clinton has always been cautious. Too cautious, her critics would say.

Such criticism is at the center of the most important question facing her today. Who should she pick as her running mate?

{mosads}Does the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee stick to her cautious impulses and pick Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine? Or does she seek to shake up her campaign with a riskier choice, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren?

“Why not backflip into the pool instead of just a plain old cannonball?” one Clinton surrogate said in endorsing the idea of a less conventional move.

“Mix it up a little? Why not? What does she have to lose?”

Mixing it up might be a stretch for a woman whom aides and friends describe as thoughtful, methodical and deliberative.

Most Clintonites aren’t expecting a surprise. They think she will pick Kaine.

“He checks off all the boxes,” said one longtime Clinton confidante.

It’s not just that Kaine would be a strong and safe surrogate for Clinton on the campaign trail, the confidante said. It’s that she’ll be able to work with him if she’s elected, something very important to Clinton.

“He has the politics and policy chops; he’s from a state Democrats need, but I know for her, first and foremost, it’ll be about who can be president and who can be her partner,” the source said. “Sure there are secondary considerations, but that’s how I think she’ll see it.” 

That may be the case, but Democrats close to the campaign say a number of names are under consideration, including Kaine, Warren, Labor Secretary Tom Perez and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

In recent days, Clinton has spent time holed up in her Washington home with longtime advisers including Cheryl Mills to go over the credentials of a half-dozen candidates.

The New York Times reported that James Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral and dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, was being vetted as a possible pick, throwing another unlikely candidate into the mix.

One Democrat close to the campaign expects that Clinton will announce her choice a week from Friday, after the Republican National Convention has ended and before the Democratic gathering starts on July 25. 

There are a number of reasons for Clinton to shake off her caution and select a running mate who would excite her political base.

She needs to do more to convince people to vote for her, and picking a vice presidential candidate who is politically exciting is one way to do it.

“Hillary Clinton needs an enthusiastic base to ensure that she wins in November. That should be the calculus in determining who she selects as a running mate … she needs someone unconventional who would sit people up and take notice,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons.

Several swing-state polls from Quinnipiac University on Wednesday showed a tightening race between Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, with the Democrat losing her leads in Pennsylvania and Florida.

Some of Clinton’s deliberateness or cautiousness may be because, as Clinton says, she’s not a natural politician the way her husband is.

She’s better at policy and governing. And when she’s governing, she has been known to take risks. She has a bias for action — the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, for instance.

When then-CIA Director Leon Panetta told Clinton that intelligence officials thought they had located bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan and that there was a credible case for moving in to get him, Clinton never paused. She was sold and wanted to go for it, even as others around her were more risk-averse. 

Asked about her tendency to err on the side of caution, the confidante added, “I don’t think she’s cautious. I think she’s deliberate.” 

In the end, the main reason Clinton may go the safe route with her VP pick comes down to her expected opponent this fall.

Aides on the Clinton campaign, while not taking anything for granted, feel that Trump has been a blessing for Clinton.

They say that he sticks his foot in his mouth more times than not, is short on policy ideas and is unliked by several important voting blocs.

They also think supporters of Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s former rival who endorsed her on Wednesday, are moving to their side.

One former aide who worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign agreed, saying the current political climate doesn’t really call for a risky pick. 

“Because the left is getting fired up, and with the dynamics of Donald Trump, and the turbulent times we’re in, people want steady,” the former aide said. “Tim Kaine represents steady. 

Some might argue that Clinton and her team are overconfident and that she needs a move exciting choice to secure a victory in the fall.

But while adding Warren, Booker or even Perez to the ticket could spice it up, longtime Clinton observers aren’t expecting that kind of pick.

“Change comes slowly, and we can’t go a bridge too far here,” the former aide acknowledged. “Kaine is still the safe bet.”


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