Technology with attitude

Questioning Obama's Timing

9

So here we sit.

As I write this it’s just a little before 3pm EDT on the Friday before the Democratic National Convention and we still don’t know who Barack Obama has decided to pick for the Number Two spot on his ticket. If that announcement is going to happen in time to make the evening network news broadcasts, it has to happen sometime in the next three hours. If it’s going to happen in time to make the Saturday newspapers, it has to happen within the next 6 to 7 hours.

If it doesn’t happen by then, then it’s apparently going to happen sometime on Saturday before Obama and The Unknown Running Mate speak together in Springfield, Illinois.

But whenever it happens, as Ed Morrissey notes, we’ve reached a point where timing is just, well, curious:

An announcement on Friday evening or Saturday morning puts it in a low-media zone. News junkies will catch the analysis immediately, but the rest of the nation will miss it. More importantly, waiting until the weekend means that the announcement will come while most delegates to the convention will be in transit to Denver. The very people Obama wants to enthuse will miss it.

Why not announce yesterday, when the choice could have dominated the media cycle for a couple of days while people were still paying attention? Given Obama’s dropping poll numbers, he needs big media buzz, and he could have used it this week, apart from the convention. Either Obama wants to wait until the convention to announce, or he has a confidence problem in his selection — and he wants the media scrutiny to hit when people aren’t paying attention.

If he announces at the convention, it’s going to be Hillary Clinton. A Hillary selection works best at the convention, providing a dramatic moment of unity. If he waits until the media Dead Zone, I’d guess either Joe Biden or Evan Bayh.

Perhaps. The only part of Morrissey’s analysis I don’t agree with is the idea that Obama might hold off the announcement until the convention and pick Hillary. If that’s the case, then why hasn’t there been any of the traditional Vice-Presidential vetting ? More importantly, if that’s the case, then why has the Obama campaign spent the last several days hyping Saturday’s event as Springfield as the coming-out party for the nominee-to-be ?

No, it’s not going to be Hillary. Cancelling the Springfield event or turn it into something other than a Veep event at this point would be an embarrassment for the campaign, and all the talk on the Sunday morning talk shows would center around why they did it and whether or not they found something wrong with the person Obama had selected at the last minute.

That said, this has got to be one of the strangest Vice-Presidential announcement roll-out’s I’ve ever seen.

It’s a summer weekend. A lot of people, including myself, aren’t even going to be at home, or near a computer or television, tomorrow when the announcement would supposedly come. If they want to get maximum exposure for this, it would seem that they’ve missed the window.

By the way, I noted earlier this week that John McCain seems to be making a similar timing mistake by scheduling his VP announcement for the Friday before Labor Day Weekend.

Thoughts ?

Update: Nate Silver at The New Republic has similar thoughts and argues that the later the roll-out, the less likely it is that Obama’s pick will be someone that isn’t already well known:

There is very little time left to roll-out and brand the candidate. As Stu Rothenberg notes, it is actually the norm rather than the exception to have the VP named relatively close to the convention. Still, there is cutting it close, and then there is leaving yourself no time at all. Geraldine Ferraro and Al Gore were named 4 days before the opening gavel at the convention, Lloyd Bentsen 6 days, Joe Lieberman 8 days, and John Edwards 20 days … so this pick will set the modern record for the Democrats, although the Republicans have sometimes waited even longer.

And this year, the circumstances are especially poor for a late roll-out. The pre-convention coverage will have to compete with the Closing Ceremonies. The convention coverage will have to compete with The Clinton Show. There isn’t really a post-convention period, since the Republicans will hold their convention the week after.

If you leave yourself with a candidate who hasn’t been adequately branded, you give yourself two problems. One, the Obama-Who? Effect, i.e. underscoring the fact that Obama is inexperienced and unknown. And two, the fact that the candidate won’t have the stature to draw large crowds on the campaign trail, or to maximize their exposure as a potential surrogate for you.

All of this points strongly to the known knowns: Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton

And, of the two, I’ve got to think that Biden is the more likely choice.

For reference, here’s when various VP picks have been announced over the past 20 years or so:

1980  Bush (R) — July 17, during the Convention (July 14-17)
1984  Ferraro (D) — July 12, the week before the Convention (July 16-19)
1988  Quayle (R) — Aug. 16, during the Convention (Aug. 15-18)
1988  Bentsen (D) — July 12, the week before the Convention (July 18-21)
1992  Gore (D) — July 9, the week before the Convention (July 13-16)
1996  Kemp (R) — Aug. 10, two days before the Convention (Aug. 12-15)
2000  Lieberman (D) — Aug. 7, the week before the Convention (Aug. 15-17)
2000 Cheney (R) — July 25, the week before the Convention (July 31-Aug. 3)
2004 Edwards (D) — July 6, three weeks before the Convention (July 26-29)

As noted, only two VP nominees since 1980 have been announced during the Convention — George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle — one of those, Bush, went very well and the other went over very poorly. The difference, of course, is that Bush was already a known quantity when the choice was announced. Dan Quayle looked like the guy who read the weather on the 6 o’clock news. Dole’s selection of Kemp in `96 was arguably similar to the Bush scenario because Kemp was already a known quantity. And, Mondale’s selection of Ferraro only one week before the 1984 Democratic National Convention fits into the Quayle model — an unknown quantity with skeletons in her closet (in Ferraro’s case, her husband and his shady business deals).

The fact that Obama is waiting this long argues strong against the pick being Tim Kaine, Evan Bayh, Chet Edwards, Kathleen Sibelius, or any other unknown quantity.

H/T: The Crossed Pond