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Clinton For Veep: Follow The Sources

Would President Obama swap Joe Biden for Hillary Clinton on his 2012 ticket? NPR's Political Junkie Ken Rudin is dubious. "Where this comes from I do not know," he declared in his Monday column dismissing the speculation about any plans to replace Biden.

One source Ken singled out was Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Woodward told CNN last year that a Clinton-for-Biden scenario was worth taking seriously:

"It's on the table. And some of Hillary Clinton's advisers see it as a real possibility in 2012. President Obama needs some of the women, Latinos, retirees that she did so well with during the 2008 primaries and, so they switch jobs. Not out of the question."

Ken said Woodward's comments "were met with an unsurprising ton of eye-rolling in Washington." But if I learned anything during my own time working at the Post, Woodward's speculation was dependably backed up by reporting.

The best example involved a different running mate question during the 2000 campaign. Back then, Woodward was among the first, if not the only journalist to publicly and correctly predict that Texas Gov. George W. Bush would choose Dick Cheney as his vice presidential nominee.

Talk about "eye-rolling." The newspaper's political staff was a bit skeptical when Woodward floated the Cheney idea during a meeting. But Woodward repeated his prediction again soon after in a July 17 video interview for the Post's website:

"I also would not rule out Bush turning to the chairman of his selection committee — namely, Dick Cheney — and saying, 'I'd like you to do it.'"

Woodward listed some of the reasons Cheney might be the kind of person Bush was looking for. He wasn't quite ready to bet a dollar on it. "But 50 cents of my dollar bet is," Woodward said. A week later, that bet would have paid off.

It turned out Woodward's speculation was based on a solid source. In an email exchange about his Cheney hunch, the reporter and author alluded to a July 2000 conversation he and the future veep had during a rooftop Independence Day party at the Federal Reserve.

Cheney, who was heading Bush's vice presidential search at the time, described the scene in his recent memoir:

"Washington is a funny place when you're out of power, and that, added to the fact that we had a couple of grandchildren with us, meant that no one rushed to join our little group — except for Bob Woodward. The famed Washington Post reporter brought his plate over, sat down beside me, and after some preliminary small talk, proceeded to pump me for information about the VP search process and who the pick might be. His instincts were right — there was a big story here — but none of his speculation was focused on me, and I felt no need to broaden his horizons."

But apparently the conversation reset Woodward's thinking. "I suspected it would be someone like Cheney and later reasoned, who is most like Cheney? Well, Cheney, of course," he said on Monday.

The reporter doesn't sound any more likely to bet a buck on a Biden-Clinton swap than he was on the Cheney choice 11 years ago. But maybe another 50 cents?

"The key phrase here is 'would not not rule out,'" Woodward said about his Cheney prediction. "I would say the same about the Clinton for Biden possibility. Not necessarily likely (unless it happens) but not something to rule out."

Stencel was the political editor for the Washington Post's website during the 2000 campaign and is now managing editor for digital news at NPR.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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