Who will be Barack Obama's running mate?

As Barack Obama prepares for a gruelling general election fight against John McCain, he faces a tough search for the ideal running mate. He will be looking for someone to support his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses. Running mates are often chosen to counter the nominee’s demographic or ideological vulnerabilities, a political strategy known as “balancing the ticket”.

Here are eight contenders who have the best chance of clasping hands with Obama on stage at the August convention in Denver:

Hillary Clinton

Obama’s former opponent is mentioned so often as his potential running mate that the phrase “dream ticket” has already entered the US political vernacular.
Although polling shows the American public would welcome an Obama-Clinton ticket, his supporters are cool to the concept. After Obama spent the past 17 months criticising Clinton as overly beholden to the Washington establishment, could he believably bring her aboard? And would Clinton accept a vice-presidential offer from her younger rival when she could stay out of the autumn race and become the frontrunner in 2012 if Obama loses to McCain?

James Webb
Virginia’s Democratic senator is still in his first term, which could exacerbate criticism of Obama’s inexperience. But before Webb came to Congress he was building a perfect running mate resumé: winning six combat medals during the Vietnam war, serving as US navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, and defending the right to gun ownership. His friendly bond with McCain could give the Republican nominee second thoughts about attacking an Obama-Webb ticket. Webb is popular with the media, but his reputation for fiery candour could cause more trouble than Obama can handle.

Ted Strickland
The Ohio governor offers a double benefit to Obama backers. As an early ally of Hillary Clinton, Strickland’s presence on the ticket would assuage bruised feelings among her supporters. He would also boost Democrats’ chances of winning Ohio, a crucial swing state that Obama lost to Clinton during the primaries. The controversy over Obama’s former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, is likely to resurface during the election battle, which makes Strickland’s noted religious outreach skills all the more attractive.
Kathleen Sebelius

The Kansas governor became a political wünderkind after remaining popular with the state’s conservative electorate while simultaneously opposing a law to ban gay marriage and vetoing a later law to protect gun rights. Her reputation for working well with political enemies aligns well with Obama’s promise to turn the US away from vicious partisanship. In fact, her biggest drawback may be Obama’s status as a pioneering African-American candidate; many in Washington believe a female running mate would have trouble wooing more traditionally minded US voters.

Ed Rendell
The governor of Pennsylvania helped to deliver his vote-rich state for Clinton in April and could do the same for Obama in November. He would bring military service and a reputation for crime-fighting as a former district attorney to the Democratic ticket—but also a reputation for blunt speaking. Rendell suggested earlier this year that white people would be reluctant to back Obama because of race and mocked his younger acolytes for “drinking the Kool-Aid” of his rousing speeches.

Bill Richardson
When New Mexico’s governor endorsed Obama in March, the tide truly began to turn against Hillary Clinton. One angry Clintonite could not resist labelling Richardson a “Judas”, after serving as Bill Clinton’s energy secretary. But Obama might decide that Richardson’s running-mate potential outweighs the risk of angering Clinton fans, particularly because of the governor’s three strengths: appeal in McCain’s home region of the west; popularity with Hispanics; and stellar foreign policy credentials. Who else can say he has personally negotiated nuclear disarmament with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il?

John Edwards
Would the 2004 vice-presidential nominee make a return appearance? “Won’t happen,” he said after coming out for Obama last month. But the offer may come anyway to the former North Carolina senator. He has strong ties to the working-class Appalachian area where Obama will need to perform well, and his anti-establishment agenda meshes well with Obama’s promise to shake up the culture in Washington. If he makes the shortlist, however, listen for another Obama ally to advise against it—John Kerry, who reportedly struggled to keep his younger running mate in line during the Democrats’ last failed campaign.

Wesley Clark
Clark is a close ally of Clinton who would help her supporters feel more comfortable with the former first lady’s loss to Obama. Clark is also a military figure as formidable as McCain, spending four years as chief commander of Nato and commanding troops during the Balkans conflict. But his failings as a campaigner were on display during his failed presidential run in 2004, and lingering criticism of his Nato leadership could backfire on Obama rather than lend credibility on national security.—

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