A black car pulls into a driveway, surrounded by flashes and crouching paparazzi — has Britney shaved the rest of it off? Is Paris in there? Is Lindsay, in Paris? No, it’s some boring whitebread senator, suddenly being tagged 24/7 because he’s a possible vice-presidential candidate for Barack Obama.

The Obama campaign, in what is becoming its increasingly irritating manner, has done a slow striptease with the VP announcement, first announcing that it would be distributed by email and text message, then that Obama had made his decision, then that it would be any day now, then the next 24 hours and so on and so on….

The candidates the media’s settled on as favourites are Senator Evan Bayh — of an old Democratic family — from Indiana, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Senator Joe Biden, the first two giving an advantage in key swing states, the third a senior Democrat giving gravitas and connection to unions and white working class voters.

The wider field includes Kansas governor Kathleen Sebalius (women, Finnish-Americans), Georgia senator Sam Nunn (armed forces creds), and Wesley Clark (general).

And of course there’s Hillary, sui generis.

The whole process has been as arbitrary as, well, most of the post-primary Obama campaign, with Nunn a strong favourite for a while, then dropping back mysteriously, and Wesley Clark a strong candidate to neutralise McCain, whom no-one’s paid much attention to.

“Any clues on the nomination Rick?,” one CNN anchor asked a roving reporter.

“Well we saw Evan Bayh and Tim Kaine today and neither looked like their lives were about to change for the next 70 days,” said Rick.

“Judging by the look on their face.”

God oh god. Everything about this is the Obama campaign at it worst — meaningless symbolic tech wonkery (the text message thing), making it all about the process rather than the content, and ultimately giving John McCain another few days of policy-free days with which to keep hammering home his message.

When this slo-mo campaign began at the conclusion of the primaries, the thought was that it was a deliberate strategy — Obama would run as the de facto incumbent and let McCain keep beating himself up, while Obama released one policy after another. Then, post-convention, with their huge pile of funds, the Obama campaign would attack McCain from all sides, leaving the old codger neither time nor funds to reply, thus making it a double whammy.

That’s how it went, except for the details — Obama didn’t occupy the airwaves with any policies, and McCain didn’t beat himself up, instead landing some rather telling blows. Then, as an anti-hat-trick, the Obama campaign started throwing back at McCain, days late, dollars short – the response to McCain’s ad painting Obama as a Britneyesque celebrity being an ad saying that um, McCain was a celeb too. (True nuff, that. The old guy is actually a really good comic actor, judging by his numerous Saturday Night Live appearances).

It’s all been an utter mess, the external sign of a campaign suffering internal conflict, like the flightpath of a plane people are fighting in the cockpit for control over. Unsurprisingly, Obama’s lead has shrunk to about 1 or 2% averaged over all polls (though to a degree that’s been caused by one or two polls having McCain in front by 5% — Obama’s still leading most polls) and the erratic course is most probably coming from vicious infighting between the Obama core staff and the Democratic party hacks that got hired as soon as the primaries were over.

The trouble is not merely with strategy. The problem as always is Obama’s diffidence when he’s dealing with a situation that isn’t a stadium speech. McCain addresses every question fired at him like he was asking it to step outside and the energy makes for good TV. Obama just sounds like the law professor he was, considering the pros and cons of tortious claim of estoppel. Or something.

In the past 24 hours Team Obama has made good play of McCain’s answer to the question of how many houses he owns (the answer being “I dont know”), but they left it for days — when they could have hoed into McCain’s answer at the Saddleback forum to the question “what’s rich — give me a number”. McCain’s answer: anything above $5 million.

With this, and other missed opportunities, you can’t help but wonder what Hillary — though not short of a dime herself — could have made of all this great material.

Sixty per cent of the country want to vote for a Democrat according to the polls. 45% say they’ll vote for Obama. Do the maths.

Whatever the VP adds — and my money is on Wesley Clark — if Obama can’t find a centre, can’t want it, chew it up, spit it out etc, then even digging up Reagan and running with what’s left wouldn’t help the man.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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