GUEST OPINION, July 6
By: Robert J. Barletta
The 2004 veepstakes is on and pundits are predicting Sen. Kerry’s No. 2 will be Dick Gephardt, John Edwards or another swing-state politico. But instead of looking to pick off one state, Sen. Kerry should make the bold and unorthodox move of picking a running mate who expands his base in other ways.
Conventional wisdom says that former presidential hopeful Howard Dean would be the last person Sen. Kerry would pick. After all, Dr. Dean is from Vermont, a loyal "blue" state and a neighbor to Sen. Kerry’s Massachusetts. So, on the surface, he doesn’t expand Sen. Kerry’s geographic (or electoral) base.
Here’s why a Kerry-Dean ticket could ultimately help put the Democrats back in power at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.:
First, Howard Dean can attract potential Ralph Nader voters. Dr. Dean’s own political base is made up of many Naderites, and he is the only person who can bring them to the Democrats’ side in states like Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire, all swing states and areas of strength for Mr. Nader.
Second, Howard Dean is still popular among "base" Democrats. While having President Bush as the opponent may be motivation enough for many Democrats, Dr. Dean has the ability to motivate those who still may resent members of their own party who decided not to oppose George Bush on Iraq, tax cuts, No Child Left Behind and other policies.
Third, Howard Dean is a tough campaigner. Very often during a campaign for the presidency, the vice presidential candidate is anointed as the pit-bull. This would come naturally for Dr. Dean, who ran an aggressive primary campaign and tapped into the anger felt by Democrats toward the Bush administration.
By the way, could you imagine a Dean-Cheney debate? Even boxing promoter Don King would be foaming at the mouth for this match-up.
Fourth, John Kerry can anoint Dr. Dean the "Health Care Vice President" and ask him to reform our health care system. With the Supreme Court striking down the right to sue an HMO for medical malpractice, congressional inaction and 40 million Americans without coverage, there is a feeling that our leaders have failed to address this crisis. If Sen. Kerry takes this route, he can show that health care will be a top priority for his administration.
Fifth, while there was much said on the campaign trail about the hostility between Sen. Kerry and Dr. Dean, the two have shown good chemistry since then. Dr. Dean crisscrosses the country weekly for Sen. Kerry, raising money and trying to bring Mr. Nader’s supporters over to the Democratic side. In fact, political history shows that candidates who fought each other hard during a primary campaign can successfully reunite on a national ticket. Just look at the Kennedy-Johnson, or Reagan-Bush administrations.
As John Kerry goes about meeting with prospective running mates, maybe he should take a look at the former Vermont governor who inspired so many Democrats to stand up for themselves the same man who reminded others in the party how to be a Democrat again.
Robert J. Barletta formerly served as chief of staff for New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton Borough) and New Jersey communications director for Dean for America. He is currently vice president of a Manhattan public relations agency.