You read it here first: If Hillary doesn't run, here's who will get the nod

Posted at 9:56 AM, Mar 06, 2015

Three predictions and a disclosure:

1.   Negative vibes about Team Clinton are strong enough that there will a spate of news stories just like this one, speculations about who the Democrats will nominate if not Her Inevitableness.

2.   The answer to that question is that the nominee will be Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.

3.   I will regret allowing my editor to actually publish this.

Disclosure: I offer this in the spirit of sports writing on things like the NFL Draft and the 2016 World Series.

There are paths to the conclusion that Tim Kaine would have to be the nominee -- historical and process of elimination. We’ll start with the latter.

There are now three semi-official possible, maybe-candidates: Elizabeth Warren, Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley.  Warren and Webb won’t run even if Hillary is out. Webb has a track record of U-turns and soul-searching, Warren just won’t. O’Malley probably would run but he couldn’t get the nomination anyway because he’s vanilla Jello.

Either Joe Biden or John Kerry could realistically get the nomination if they ran.  Sitting Veeps are rarely rejected by their parties (see R. Nixon, H. Humphrey, G.W.H. Bush, A. Gore).

But both Kerry and Biden are old by the measure of history. The oldest successful candidate was Ronald Reagan, who was 69. Biden will be two weeks shy of 74 on Election Day 2016 and Kerry is just a year younger. Biden’s approval ratings have been heading steadily South and he seems to be losing not gaining stature in this second term.  Kerry gave it the old college try once. General election losers hardly ever get a second chance.

My bet is neither run.

Obviously, the Democratic herd won’t let Martin O’Malley run unopposed.  But the options stink.

There are only 18 Democratic governors.  Jerry Brown is the most famous and he is older than Biden and Kerry combined.  Andrew Cuomo seems destined to follow his father’s destiny of not running, though his reasons seem better than dad’s. There isn’t a contender on the list, including ex-governors (except Kaine).

How about moguls, generals and heroes? I suppose there is a Bloomberg scenario, but I’d bet big against it. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and “Lean In” is mentioned sometimes and that sure would be interesting.  But there is no Lee Iacocca, Colin Powell, Wesley Clark type of speculation magnet out there.

Is there a Kennedy out there? Not this year. Roosevelt? Nope.

So that brings us to the graveyard of presidential ambition, the U.S. Senate.  Some recent alums and current leaders would surely run. Pick among: Evan Bayh, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mark Warner, Jon Tester, Cory Booker and, of course, Tim Kaine.

Kaine is by far the best-looking resume out there.  He’s a former mayor (Richmond), governor (Virginia) and he hasn’t been in the Senate long enough to forget how to speak like a muggle.  He’s won statewide in Virginia, a conservative, trending- Republican state. He’s a good campaigner and doesn’t come off as a slicky boy.

Kaine also ran the Democratic National Committee for a while, which tells you three things: Other politicians think he’s got smarts; he can raise money; and he has a national antenna.

The military has a huge presence in Virginia, and Kaine got himself appointed to the Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.  He seems to be developing expertise and an influential voice.  He has pushed Obama hard and articulately to get formal congressional authority for the current military adventures in the Mideast.

And Kaine proved this week he has guts. He boycotted Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, risking the undying ire of a giant swatch of the Jewish donor community.

Unfortunately, Tim is not a very presidential name. Though it is better than Barack. Or Hillary. Or Jimmy.

So what about the lessons of recent history? It’s basically that governors are the best candidates.

I think 1988 is most instructive, though 1992 is relevant.

Both parties were wide open in 1988. Before the race hit full stride, three front-runners dropped out.  Teddy Kennedy, who challenged Carter in the 1980 primaries, would have been tough a race. Same with Gary Hart, who wanted to run but went up in flames. Mario Cuomo, the sweet-talking governor of New York, passed.

With no frontrunner, lots of runners came out. They were dubbed the Seven Dwarfs, though they don’t look like dwarfs by today’s fashions: Al Gore, Richard Gephardt, Paul Simon, Jesse Jackson, Bruce Babbitt, Joe Biden and the governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis. 

Dukakis was an unknown, but had a reputation as an honest brainiac. Mostly he was from Massachusetts so he won the New Hampshire primary and limped to the nomination. He didn’t have half the tickets Kaine does, but the senators couldn’t touch him.

Four years later, George Bush the Elder looked like a heavy favorite early on. Cuomo was again the Democrats’ favorite and he again declined. So did Lloyd Bentsen (Dukakis’s running mate), Al Gore and Bill Bradley.  In the end, an unknown governor from the South beat out a couple of senators.

It is also worth noting that since 1972 when the open primary system truly began, lesser known Democrats do better in general elections than well known players. It is Carter, Clinton and Obama versus Mondale, Gore and Kerry.  Dukakis would be the exception.

So I think the fickle finger of fate is pointed at Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA.

And if Hillary does run, Kaine will get the vice presidential nomination.

You read it here first.

[Also listen to podcast hosted by Dick Meyer: We’re running low on trust]

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