Hillary Clinton
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Following on my last piece, on Trump’s electoral path to victory, it’s no surprise that Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is reportedly on Hillary Clinton’s shortlist for her running mate. If Trump can’t win in Florida or Virginia, then he really would need to win Iowa and New Hampshire in addition to Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. And that would only get him to the bare minimum 270 electoral votes. If Clinton were to split off Omaha’s Electoral College vote in Nebraska (as Obama did in 2008), we’d have a 269-269 tie and be going to the House of Representatives to resolve the election.

Building a firewall in Virginia is therefore a highly sensible strategy, and if Tim Kaine can help with that, he’d make a logical pick for vice president.

What he wouldn’t do is excite anybody.

That job would go to two other names mentioned from the shortlist: Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. Of course, Castro is the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas.

If one theory in favor of Kaine (beyond his home state appeal) is that he “could appeal to independents and swing voters” nationally, the cases for Castro and Warren are based on other considerations. Warren would do the most to excite the white liberal base that coalesced around Bernie Sanders. The all-woman ticket might also have surprising appeal to a decent-sized subset of erstwhile conservative women. Castro, who is only 41 years old, would be a nod to the up-and-coming rainbow coalition of progressive-minded voters.

Both Warren and Castro would polarize the electorate, but in different ways. The business community, which seems reconciled to a Clinton presidency, would get very uneasy with Warren on the ticket. Some voters would see her as too far to the left. Castro, on the other hand, would be a stick in the eye of the Trump-supporting voters who feel like demographic changes (the Browning of America) is leaving them and their values behind. Trump wants to build a wall to keep the Latinos out, and Clinton wants to make a Latino (named “Castro,” no less) the vice president. That’s a stark contrast right there.

There are no doubt a few others on the shortlist, but these three all have some obvious strengths. Kaine is the most straightforward Electoral College strategic play. The effect of Warren or Castro is much harder to predict. All of them have the potential to change turnout models more than your average running mate. I expect they’d all have different influences on down ticket races while not necessarily changing the results in any states for the presidential contest.

I’m just spitballing here, but I could see Warren helping Clinton run up the score in areas she’s already winning or Castro helping the Democrats pick up House seats in Florida and California. Kaine might help solidify Virginia but depress Democratic enthusiasm in a more general sense.

As for actually doing the job, well, it’s a difficult job. I mean, the presidency is difficult, if it ever came to that. It’s hard to say who is prepared for it. Clinton is about as prepared as a person can be, but these proposed running mates seem less so.

Castro has been serving in the cabinet for a few years, and that’s hopefully given him some insight into how to go about doing the top job. His executive experience (big city mayor, running HUD) is not non-existent, but it’s still fairly thin. Kaine ran the DNC for a spell, which seems like good job training. He also served as governor and lieutenant governor of Virginia, as well as mayor of Richmond. He seems pretty solid. The case for Warren is harder to make, but she did prove herself to be a very capable bureaucratic infighter when she was setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It’s hard to picture any of them as president, but really not any harder than envisioning Joe Lieberman or John Edwards or Sarah Palin or Paul Ryan as president. Kaine does serve on both the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, which presumably gives him some useful preparation. Warren serves on the Banking, Energy, and Health Committees, which certainly doesn’t hurt but hasn’t added much to her knowledge base on national security matters.

Maybe none of them will make the cut, but they all have something interesting to offer.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com