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Salazar for Vice President?

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Colorado’s freshman Senator, Ken Salazar, is being discussed in some circles as a potential running mate for the next Democratic Presidential nominee, and I think he’d be a great choice for a couple of reasons:

1. Salazar comes from an emerging Democratic state in the Western U.S., which is an important region of the country for the next Democratic Presidential candidate.

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2. Salazar has shown to be a moderate Democrat, and if we’ve learned anything from 2006, it’s that moderate candidates appeal to the average voter.

3. Salazar is interesting. A cowboy hat-wearing Hispanic farmer would be an intriguing character on the campaign trail – much more interesting than the John Kerry/ John Edwards ticket for President in 2004.

Of the three of these reasons, I think #3 is actually the most important. Running for President is a lot like running for student council in that it really boils down to a popularity contest among the average voters who don’t know much about any of the candidates. Politics is about perception, and Salazar would allow the Democratic ticket to look a little more interesting – and being interesting is important. For someone who didn’t know all that much about any of the candidates in 2004, what was the difference between Kerry and Edwards? They were rich, white males who were both in the U.S. Senate and both former attorneys. Hell – they even had the same first name. Yes, they had different outlooks and mannerisms, but if you weren’t interested in politics, the Democratic ticket wasn’t all that exciting.

Salazar would be a good VP choice for the same reason that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are getting most of the attention as potential candidates for President: They are different. I don’t mean to oversimplify things, but Obama (as a black man) and Clinton (as a woman) are intriguing in part because they aren’t rich, white males. People like new and different, and a Hispanic, cowboy hat-wearing farmer from Colorado running for Vice President is new and different.

Whether or not Salazar actually ends up on the Democratic ticket in 2008 is another story, however, and there are a few obstacles to overcome. For one thing, Salazar might not be the first choice if the sole criteria were picking an up-and-coming Democrat from the west; for example, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (also a candidate for President, and also Hispanic) might have more appeal because he has a longer resume.

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As a potential running mate, Salazar’s fate also probably depends on what happens with Obama. If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee, Salazar probably wouldn’t end up as Vice President because then the ticket would be made up of two freshman Senators and two minorities – and America might not be ready for the latter. On the other hand, if Obama does not end up as the Presidential nominee, he’s probably a more intriguing choice than Salazar for Vice President, provided there are no hard feelings from the primary. If Clinton or another Democrat wins out and Obama stages a bitter fight, the Presidential nominee might be loathe to share the spotlight with Obama and decide to choose someone else; in that scenario, the moderate Salazar could emerge as an ideal choice.

It may be too soon for Salazar to make such a giant political leap, but it’s not out of the question, either. Salazar’s new chief of staff, Jeff Lane, was formerly a top advisor to Edwards, and Salazar’s political future no doubt is a factor in that assignment. Colorado may yet see one of its own reach the biggest national stage of all.

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