Barack Obama has victory within his grasp. All it would take is one masterstroke of political tactics, and the race would be all but over.
To accomplish this seemingly-impossible feat, all he would have to do is, first, immediately agree to a debate within the next week. The debate begins. The moderator asks some inane first question to Barack. Instead of answering it (no matter what he has been asked), Obama instead looks directly into the camera and says the following:
Instead of answering that, I would like instead to address the people in the Democratic Party for a moment.
Our party is now pretty equally divided between myself and Senator Clinton. The race is about tied. We are obviously the two strongest candidates this party has to offer to win the White House in 2008. We both have our relative strengths, and much of the electorate is genuinely conflicted over who to select in the voting booth. Some say this is fracturing our party, but I don't believe that is true. The Republican Party is divided because of antipathy among their different factions for their various candidates -- but I'm proud to say that our party is conflicted over who is the best between two very good choices.
So I would like to take this opportunity to offer Senator Clinton the Vice Presidential spot on the Democratic ticket, should I be nominated for President. Should she be nominated, and should she offer the same to me, I am publicly saying I would accept that as well. I think both of us should get behind the idea of a 'dream ticket' right here on this stage. I challenge my opponent to do the same.
Instant pandemonium! Among loud cheers from the crowd, the moderator finally sputters, "How do you respond, Senator Clinton?"
This paints Hillary into a very dicey corner. The only way out of it for her would be to immediately accept. But I don't believe she would do so.
I think the Clinton camp already has reams of spreadsheets showing exactly how many votes in which states are added for each possible VP nominee, and I don't think she'd dismiss all that triangulation in favor of what she would consider a "rash move." I see her giving a signature laugh (to buy a few seconds to think about it), and then giving some equivocating answer: "Well, I am not running for VP, I still think I'm going to win." If pressed by either Obama or the moderator, I still see her giving some version of: "It's way too early, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
I guarantee one thing, though. This would be the 15 seconds of this debate that everyone would see on the news that night. And I predict that it would mean the rest of the primaries would be a cakewalk for Obama.
There is a huge number of Democratic voters who are seriously conflicted over which candidate to vote for. True, there are staunch Hillary supporters, and a vocal Barack base as well. But there are also a whole lot of Democrats in the middle -- seeing good things and bad about both candidates -- who are so up-in-the-air that they're waiting until the last minute (there in the voting booth) to make up their minds. Given the promise from one of the candidates that a vote for him would also wind up being a vote for her as well, I would be willing to bet that it would turn this tide toward Obama.
Even if Hillary realized what was happening and later did come out for the "dream ticket" scenario (whether Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton), this would still end up helping Obama, since he thought of it first and showed leadership by proposing it on live television. Clinton (supposedly ready to lead on "day one") would be seen as not being able to make snap decisions, instead relying on cautious (and poll-driven) decision-making. Obama has been making the case for a while that he would decide things right the first time around (see: Iraq), and this would just reinforce that image.
This is also why it needs to happen during a live debate. Although the same tactic may have a more limited effect if rolled out in an Obama stump speech, it would be most effective during a debate -- when there is absolutely no time for the candidate to talk to her advisors about what to do.
Of course, because it is almost a tie race, and because this is a tactic (or, to be blunt, a "gimmick"), it could actually be used by either side at this point. Hillary has already had one "gotcha" moment in a debate, calling on Obama to support her Senate legislation. Obama, to his credit, immediately did so. This would mean Hillary would run a greater risk of the whole thing backfiring on her, and getting stuck with Obama as a running mate when she probably would have picked someone else, given a free choice.
But try as I might, I just don't see her attempting something this risky. I think the chances are much higher that Obama would be the one to make such a bold move.
And I think it would guarantee him star billing on that "dream ticket."
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant