Hillary Clinton had just delivered a victory speech that, if a little hoarse, sent a resounding message: "We are moving closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination and winning this election in November!" It was March 17, the day after what the media had taken to calling Super Tuesday III, and the Democratic establishment candidate had just vanquished her rival Bernie Sanders in Ohio, Illinois, Florida and North Carolina. John Podesta, her campaign chair, congratulated her on a "fabulous night" before launching into a 39 name list of potential vice-presidential picks, arranged into "rough food groups." (See also, Vice-Presidential Debate: Enter the "Polished" Politicians.)
According to the email, which was published by WikiLeaks and has not been verified as authentic by the Clinton campaign or independent experts, the Clinton campaign considered filling out the ticket with a range of figures from politics, business and philanthropy. Among them was a solid contingent representing the Forbes billionaires and Fortune 500 lists. The cohorts were lumped together into "food groups."
Podesta's Picks for Veep
Michael Bloomberg is the founder and owner of Bloomberg L.P., a financial data and media giant. He led his company from 1981 to 2001, when he took a break to serve as mayor of New York City. He left office in 2013 and resumed his role as CEO of Bloomberg. He was reportedly mulling a third-party presidential run in 2016, and made no secret of his contempt for fellow billionaire Donald Trump (Bloomberg is number 8 in the current Forbes list with an estimated net worth of $40 billion, Trump is number 324 with an estimated net wort hof $4.5 billion).
Ursula Burns has been the CEO of Xerox Corp. (XRX) since 2009 and its chair since 2010. Raised in a New York City housing project by Panamanian immigrant single mother, she obtained mechanical engineering degrees from NYU and Columbia, joined Xerox as a summer intern, and worked her way up to become the first black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company (number 150).
Tim Cook took over as CEO of Apple Inc. (AAPL) – number 3 on the Fortune list and the largest publicly traded company by market cap – in 2011, a few weeks before the death of its founder Steve Jobs. In 2014 he became the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to publicly come out as gay.
Bill or Melinda Gates are the heads of the largest private charity in the world. Bill co-founded Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) with Paul Allen in 1975, a move that would vault him to the top of the Forbes list, with a current net worth $75 billion, and his company – he stepped down as CEO in 2000 to focus on philanthropy – to the 25th spot in the Fortune 500.
Muhtar Kent has been the CEO of Coca-Cola Co. (KO), number 62 on the Fortune 500 list, since 2008 and its chair since 2009. He was born in New York City to Turkish parents.
Judith Rodin is neither a billionaire nor the head of a Fortune 500 company, but a glance at her resume shows why she belongs in this "food group." She was the first woman to serve as permanent president of an Ivy League school, leading the University of Pennsylvania for ten years beginning in 1994 (which puts her in a club with Ben Franklin). Shortly after leaving Philadelphia she took her current job as president of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Howard Schultz went to work for Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) – then Starbucks Coffee Company – as its director of marketing in 1982, but became frustrated by the company's unwillingness to adopt his Italian-inspired café concept. He left, opened his own shop and after a couple of years bought the Starbucks unit from his former employer. The company has since become a $77 billion behemoth, number 146 on the Fortune 500 list, and Schultz has climbed to number 595 on the Forbes list, with a net worth of $2.9 billion.
One Conspicuous Similarity
Aside from wealth and corporate heft, which the Clinton campaign may have seen as a way to defuse Trump's image as a successful businessman, the potential VP picks have something in common – or rather, they don't. Most of them do not fit into the narrow demographic that has traditionally dominated the upper echelons of American business and politics: straight, white, Christian men (Bloomberg and Schultz were born to Jewish families). Bill Gates is the one exception to this rule, but his obvious commitment to philanthropic causes is apparently enough to burnish his credentials with progressives.
The other "food groups" represent different strategic angles, but each has its own internal logic. Just below the business magnates we find Bernie Sanders in a category by himself (whether that placement was intentional is unclear).
Xavier Becerra, Julian Castro, Eric Garcetti, Tom Perez and Ken Salazar are all male Latino politicians. Becerra is a congressman; Castro, Perez and Salazar are cabinet members; Garcetti is the mayor of Los Angeles.
Tammy Baldwin, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Claire McCaskill, Jeanne Shaheen, Debbie Stabenow and Elizabeth Warren are white female senators.
Michael Bennet, Sherrod Brown, Martin Heinrich , Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy senators. Terry McAuliffe is the governor of Virginia; Tom Vilsack is the secretary of agriculture. All are white men.
Stephen Benjamin, Andrew Gillum and Kasim Reed are mayors. Cory Booker is a senator from New Jersey, Eric Holder is the U.S. Attorney General, Deval Patrick was the previous governor of Massachusetts, and Anthony Foxx is the secretary of transportation. All are black men.
The final food group is military, though all three are also white men: John Allen is a retired Marine Corps four-star general and the special presidential envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition; William McRaven and Michael Mullen are retired Navy admirals.
And the Winner: Tim Kaine
In the end, Clinton opted for Tim Kaine, a white, Catholic, male senator from a swing state (Virginia) who speaks fluent, if heavily accented, Spanish. Further leaks, assuming they are authentic, may reveal the calculus that went into this decision, but the answer probably lies in Clinton's poor performance – both in the primaries, when the email in question was sent, and since – among white men.