Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sanders should pick a running mate - NOW

Progressives, new and old     Source: Star Tribune
Hillary Clinton crushed Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders in South Carolina tonight, nearly 75 - 25. A big component of this win was Clinton's strength among African Americans. Although there are possible scenarios where Sanders pulls off an overall victory, the current state-level demographics--combined with proportional delegate allocation rules--make Clinton the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination. In fact, with Trump currently sucking up much of the journalistic oxygen, the Democratic race has essentially devolved into a single 'demographics-is-destiny' narrative.

This leads to the question: what are the high-risk, high-reward strategies which Sanders might deploy that could shift the macro demographic landscape? Seemingly the most obvious is to immediately pick a Vice Presidential running mate. The veepstakes is a journalistic meme that's been relegated to general election coverage in recent years, so a candidate who disrupts this norm would likely garner tremendous free media attention.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison (D-MN), one of Sanders' first congressional endorsements, would be an obvious choice. But beyond the specific strategizing, I wonder why we don't see more preemptive VP picks in competitive primaries?

In a (very) simplistic model of voter behavior, Sanders might have improved his performance in South Carolina by naming an African American running mate. To take our example, Ellison is a black congressman whose progressive policies fit with Sanders' and who has been deeply involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, a friction point for Sanders.

Presumably Sanders didn't do this because of the existing veepstakes norms. It's hard to think outside the box, to be fair. Candidates typically use their VP picks as a way to reposition towards the general election (i.e. more centrist), and to appease certain interest groups. But for a candidate locked into a losing demographic electoral structure, making an early VP pick is a single-tailed gamble: everything to gain, nothing to lose.

As a side-note, a primary strategy that utilized VP slots as a weapon would simply further the trend towards higher partisan polarization via reduced fidelity to historic norms. It's not at all difficult to envision an end-state in which primary candidates fall into a 'sooners' / 'jumping the gun' collective-action failure and name running makes almost immediately.

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