The Case for a Clinton-Biden Switch


(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waves at the crowd at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Shortly before the Democratic National Convention opens in Charlotte, North Carolina, next September 3, Barack Obama should announce that he has asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to join him on the ticket as the vice-presidential candidate, and Vice President Joe Biden to become secretary of state in his second term—and that both of them have agreed.

A Clinton-Biden switch can improve the odds of a Democratic victory at a time when economic conditions would make re-election difficult for any president. As secretary of state, Clinton has been associated with the part of the Obama administration that enjoys the highest approval. Just as important, she has not been associated with economic policy and could now provide the ticket with a fresh voice and sense of renewal on economic issues.

According to polls, Clinton has been the most admired woman in America for the past seven years. Much of the old hostility toward her has faded away, and what remains is a wide respect for her steadiness, perseverance, and intelligence. Recent surveys put her approval ratings in the high 60s, considerably higher than Biden or Obama himself. In fact, a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 45 percent of those who disapprove of Obama’s performance viewed Clinton favorably. As was true in 2008, she continues to have more appeal than Obama among older, white voters, a group that turned sharply toward the Republicans in 2010.

The main value of bringing Clinton forward as vice president, however, would be to raise enthusiasm and voter turnout in the core constituencies of the Democratic Party. Clinton’s strength among women, Latinos, and Jews could be of particular value in 2012.

One recent poll suggests that Hillary Clinton’s bases of support could help Obama in a crucial state. According to a survey of voters in Florida by Suffolk University, Republicans would win the state with Marco Rubio as their vice-presidential nominee, but Obama would prevail by adding Clinton.

Of course, Clinton has said that she intends to step down from the State Department at the end of Obama’s term and that she has no further intention of running for president. “I have made my contribution,” she told NBC’s Today show in October. “I’m very grateful I’ve had a chance to serve, but I think it’s time for others to step up.”

Referring to her 2008 primary race against Obama, she continued: “We had had a hard-fought election, and I wanted to beat him, and he ended up beating me. But he asked me to serve our country and him in his administration. Why? Because we both love our country. So I said yes.” If Obama now asked her to join him as vice president, she might also say “yes,” with much the same explanation.

The appeal of switching Biden’s and Clinton’s roles is that it would also show no disrespect to Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before becoming vice president. By all accounts, Biden has done a capable job, but he does not have anything approaching Clinton’s electoral appeal.

Some may object that, despite the attractions of a switch, the choice of vice-presidential candidates doesn’t affect the outcome of presidential elections. But that’s not what the political-science literature on the subject suggests. In a 2010 study in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Bernard Grofman and Reuben Kline find that the choice of the vice president has limited but, as they say, “non-trivial effects” on voters’ choices. At most, they detect a shift of only about 1 percent of the vote (though their model cannot capture voter-turnout effects). Still, several recent presidential elections have been decided by close margins. If Obama wins in 2012, it seems unlikely that he will win in a landslide. An extra 1 percent of the vote—tipping a state like Florida—could be decisive. Ask Al Gore.

There is also a longer-term consideration for the Democratic Party. If an Obama-Clinton ticket succeeds, it would position Clinton unambiguously to run for president in 2016. That may not just be in Clinton’s interest. Because of losses in gubernatorial and congressional elections in 2010, the Democrats today do not have a deep bench of potential presidential candidates with ready-made appeal. The party’s best shot in 2016 may well be with Clinton.

If Obama were to ask Clinton to run as vice president, they would need to work out her portfolio of responsibilities. Beginning with Gore, recent vice presidents have exercised far more influence than most of their predecessors, and Clinton would reasonably expect a significant role. There’s no reason to think she couldn’t resolve that with Obama; from all appearances, they’ve been able to work effectively together while she’s been secretary of state.

But why should Clinton risk her reputation in what may seem like a chancy race in 2012? After all, if she just steps down from the State Department, she will not only have a respite from public demands but also the opportunity to position herself as the front-runner for 2016 regardless of what happens in 2012.

Unless Obama can prevail on her to join him on the ticket, Clinton may well decide that her best course is to return to private life. Anyone who has traveled as many miles as she has as secretary of state has a right to rest. But that is also a reason why her decision to run with Obama would be so well received among Democrats. Clinton doesn’t need to do it, but if she does, she could make all the difference.


We heard the calls for George H.W. Bush to dump Quayle. We heard the calls for George W. Bush to dump Cheney. Now this?

Yet somehow it never happens.

FDR had three Vice Presidents so switching VPs isn't new territory. IIRC, Wallace was dumped in favor of Truman because Wallace was perceived as too liberal and combative.

I think Obama and Clinton complement each other's skills and personalities; it would be interesting to bring her into a closer orbit for domestic politics.

I dispute the argument that it would position her for a 2016 presidential run. Aside from George HW Bush, I can't think of any modern sitting VP who has become president (all arguments about hanging chads aside, Gore shouldn't been a shoe in and wasn't). I have a book at home entitled "Bland Ambition" about the history of Vice Presidents. It's a thoroughly mordant and morbid read. Moving Clinton to the VP slot would be powerful, yes, but would not set her up for 2016.

Some stupid ideas never die. Maybe it is because all the buzz is on the Republican side of the ledger some Democrats need to generate excitement on their side, but this isn’t the way to do it. Hillary acolytes have been trying to pressure Obama to make Hillary his “Vice-President” for three and a half years and, wisely, he has resisted. I put the name of the office in quotes because what Hillary would expect is a co-Presidency, as Starr seems to admit when he discusses her expectations of enhanced responsibilities. If Hillary is seen as dragging Obama across the finish line, that will enhance her demands and no doubt Bill will expect an enhanced, if perhaps unofficial, portfolio. Whatever their virtues, the Clintons are nothing if not power hungry. The question of “who is in charge” will be constantly asked. Yes, she has been a decent Secretary of State, but she served in that position at Obama’s discretion, the Vice-Presidency would be permanent. Much of the Administration’s focus would also shift to making Hillary President in 2016. This would serve neither Obama nor the nation.

Hillary polls well, but so have past Secretaries of State. The moment she became a candidate the right-wing mudslingers would regenerate the (Bill and Hillary) Clinton scandal machine. While some of the allegations hurled against the Clintons were either inventions or small potatoes, there was enough that was real and we are only speaking of the past. Does anyone believe Bill has been faithful these past years? Maybe he has, but you can rest assured that if he hasn’t and Republicans know it (and they probably do), it will become front page news. They will also try to dig up dirt on the contributors to the Clinton foundation and that may just be the tip of the iceberg. These are headaches Obama doesn’t need.

President Obama, please keep Biden as VP and put this stupid idea to rest.

Too bad Hillary didn't win the nomination! This might be what this country needs to get back on track. Our sec'y of state is well versed and extremely intelligent. Maybe she can work with the other side of the aisle and win them over. I sure hope so!! Unfortunately, it doesn't matter who won the last election, our former president left this country is shambles and hideout, because he knows it.

The argument is really much simpler:
Biden is a Useless Idiot.

Got a better idea, how about a trifecta, Obama goes to vice, Hillary takes the CIC slot, and Biden becomes Sec State.

If you need any further proof of the demise of the Obama presidency, this article and its argument will suffice. No one, i mean no one, votes for vice presidents. If he were to do this, would his slogan be, "I am the one you were waiting for, but I had to add Hillary for full measure?" just silly.

I am predicting that Hillary Clinton will be the next Dem. Canditate for Pres. of the USA. The Dems. are going to see that Obama can not win another term and I believe they have allready been active behind the scenes to get the job done, one way or another, to Draft, Nominate, etc. Hillary for Pres.
I believe that Pres. Obama will not run for another term as he will have been offered such a high paying job that he can't turn it down. I also believe the Dems. will force him out one way or another.
You all watch and see!!

Dream on!

yes i agree - a clinton/biden ticket would have a better chance of getting re-elected
but then he wouldn't be president anymore

Nobody who wants to finish their term would have someone as dangerous as Hillary as a running mate in the second spot.

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