President Obama’s top aides secretly considered replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Hillary Rodham Clinton on the 2012 ticket, undertaking extensive focus-group sessions and polling in late 2011 when Obama’s re-election outlook appeared uncertain.
The aides concluded that, despite Clinton’s popularity, the move would not offer a big enough political boost to Obama to justify such a move, according to a newly published account of the 2012 race.
The idea of replacing Biden with Clinton had long been rumored, but journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, in their new book, “Double Down,” provide a detailed description of the effort inside the senior circle of Obama advisers. It was pushed by the chief of staff at the time, William Daley, despite the rapport Daley had developed with Biden, a fellow Irish Catholic and veteran of Washington politics.
“When the research came back near the end of the year, it suggested that adding Clinton to the ticket wouldn’t materially improve Obama’s odds,” the authors write in their sequel to “Game Change,” which chronicled the 2008 campaign. “Biden had dodged a bullet he never saw coming — and never would know anything about, if the Obamans could keep a secret.”
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In a phone interview Thursday, Daley acknowledged that he wanted to research what the move would mean for Obama, whose popularity, in fall 2011, was at its lowest in his presidency to date. He called it “due diligence.”
“I was vocal about looking into a whole bunch of things, and this was one of them,” he said.
“You have to remember, at that point the president was in awful shape, so we were like, ‘Holy Christ, what do we do? ’”
While last year’s grind of an election lacked the drama of the 2008 race, there was no lack of backstage maneuvering and fighting, providing grist for the authors’ reconstruction of Obama’s race against Mitt Romney and the at-times-unpredictable Republican primary.
Obama is seen as being detached from much of the tedious but necessary grunt work of politics and as wanting to be a more unapologetically liberal president.
Biden, who may run for president in 2016, is viewed warily by Obama’s circle, not only for being a gaffe-prone “Uncle Joe,” but also for, in their minds, being overly consumed with his own political future.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, another potential presidential candidate, is described as having been eliminated from vice-presidential contention by Romney because of unanswered questions about his background and health.
According to a memo on Christie from Romney’s vetting team, there were unanswered questions on a defamation lawsuit against the governor from earlier in his political career, on a Securities and Exchange Commission settlement involving Christie’s brother, on names and documentation of his household help, on information from his time as a securities-industry lobbyist, and on his medical history. “The dossier on the Garden State governor’s background was littered with potential land mines,” the authors write.
Asked to respond, an aide to Christie arranged for Beth Myers, who oversaw the vice-presidential search for Romney, to issue a statement Thursday that read: “Governor Christie complied fully with the Romney campaign’s request for documents in a timely manner, including a complete medical report from his internist and cardiologist.”
The book includes other interesting nuggets:
• Obama, who is known to detest the intense care and feeding some campaign donors require, told his campaign manager he could not even name his top five bundlers. “I just have no idea,” he said. After meeting with the liberal billionaire George Soros, a potential major donor to Democratic 2012 efforts, the president said that “if we don’t get anything out of him,” he would never sit with him again.
• The authors reveal the source who told Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, that Romney had not paid any taxes in 10 years: Jon Huntsman Sr., the father of Romney’s early rival in the Republican primaries.
• Huntsman’s son, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah, is portrayed in perhaps the most negative light in the book. As Obama’s ambassador to China, he repeatedly assured top White House officials that he was not considering a Republican presidential bid, even as he was meeting with potential campaign strategists during a trip to his Washington home around Christmas 2011. And while Huntsman was in Beijing, his wife was exchanging emails with his eventual consultant.