It doesn't take a political genius to realize that Barack Obama needed to nominate a woman for vice president. Obama's key problem is that there is no gender gap. In the most recent Zogby poll, he runs only 2 points better among women than among men. A Democrat should be running 10 to 15 points better among women.
If Obama is to have a hope of winning, he needs to improve his performance among female voters. The Fox News poll indicates that only about half of those who backed Hillary Clinton in the primaries are voting for Obama and that fully one in five is now planning to back McCain. Attractive to women voters because of his maverick positions on issues and his willingness to defy the Republican orthodoxy, McCain is garnering votes from women who should be part of Obama's core constituency.
So why didn't Obama name a woman? He couldn't nominate Hillary because she came with such baggage that he'd be spending his entire campaign swatting away charges directed at the Clintons. It would be priceless to see Obama trying to justify Bill's refusal to publish the names of the donors to his library or to explain what Bill is doing in Dubai and Kazakhstan.
But what about Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius? While not a national figure, she is attractive and articulate, and would have made a fine candidate. But Obama was terrified that the Clintons would wreck vengeance if he named a woman other than Hillary. But it was all a bluff.
Hillary's delegates would have celebrated the selection of a woman and would not have held it against Obama that it was someone other than Hillary. Hillary, for her part, would have had to grit her teeth and support Sebelius or risk alienating her core constituency. But Obama didn't dare do what he needed to do. He wimped out.
The fact that Barack Obama named Joe Biden as his vice presidential candidate will have relatively little impact on the strategic framework of the race. Biden was the best of the names on Obama's short list. His experience in foreign affairs, his tough advocacy of the Democratic agenda and his skill at handling himself will all help Obama's campaign, but not decisively. The other options were worse. Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia, had as little experience as Obama. Evan Bayh, senator from Indiana, is way too soft spoken and mild for a rough and tumble campaign.
But the most important thing is that Obama did not choose a woman. He needed one. With Hillary's evident availability for the nomination, his failure to name her or some other woman stands out starkly to women voters. It doesn't matter to them that he chose Biden over Bayh or Kaine. What matters is that he did not choose Hillary or another woman.
Now, John McCain can take advantage of Obama's blunder by coming back with a woman nominee for president. Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison would be an excellent choice. She's been around for decades and is not going to start making mistakes now. Her nomination would be a signal to American women that McCain takes their aspirations seriously, even if Obama does not. Hutchison is not charismatic. But her circumstances would be if she were nominated. The prospect of a woman vice president would electrify women throughout the nation.
I have previously written about the advantages of Joe Lieberman for vice president. His nomination would send a signal of bipartisanship that would be notable and would hasten Democratic defections. But conservatives would be horrified by the choice of Lieberman. And Obama's failure to nominate a woman is such a glaring misstep that McCain should pounce and take advantage of it.
The ticket will nominally be Obama-Biden. But, to millions of American women it will be Obama and not Hillary.