- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2000

Geography is back in Veepstakes 2000, as Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush try to map a shortcut to 270 electoral votes.

In 1992, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton ignored the conventional wisdom in picking Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, a running mate who shared his region, his generation and his "New Democrat" ideology.

Eight years later, Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush appear to be thinking "location, location, location," mulling vice presidential contenders who could pick off a key state in a tight contest.

"Everyone's done the math, and the race comes down to the Midwest and a couple of renegade states," says Jim Duffy, a Democratic political consultant. The question for Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore is, "Will my [running mate] help me in a state where I can't help myself?"

Such thinking could lead Mr. Gore to pick Florida Sen. Bob Graham, North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. or Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Mr. Duffy said.

Analysts say Mr. Bush might seek help in the Rust Belt by tapping Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge or Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio, retiring chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell and Arizona Sen. John McCain are two potential Bush running mates who might generate national enthusiasm. But both repeatedly have said they are not interested in the vice presidency. Elizabeth Dole, a North Carolinian who has served in two Cabinet posts, could lose out if Mr. Bush wants to secure a strategic state.

The same goes for Democratic hopefuls who are not tied to big states such as Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine.

"The big issue in the presidential campaign" is whether Mr. Bush plans to fight for California," says Jack Burkman, a Bush supporter and fund-raiser who hopes the Texas governor will contest the nation's largest state.

"If they abandon California, you almost have to have a guy like Ridge or Kasich" to nail down the Rust Belt, he said.

Mr. Ridge, 54, a Roman Catholic and Vietnam veteran, "has moved into a class by himself" among the Bush hopefuls, Mr. Burkman said. He is a popular two-term governor in a state that boasts 23 electoral votes.

The Republican National Convention will be held in Philadelphia, which means Mr. Bush could tap Mr. Ridge in his own state.

The Pennsylvania governor would give Mr. Bush a boost in Pennsylvania, according to a new poll. Mr. Bush leads Mr. Gore in Pennsylvania 43 percent to 39 percent. But Mr. Bush's lead in Pennsylvania widens to 46 percent to 37 percent if Mr. Bush picks Mr. Ridge, according to the survey by Precision Marketing Inc. of Easton, Pa.

But Mr. Ridge is pro-choice on abortion. Jitters about religious conservatives could lead Mr. Bush to tap Mr. Kasich, 47, who represented Columbus, Ohio, in the House of Representatives for nine terms. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says he would pick Mr. Kasich.

Mr. Bush also could make mischief by tapping Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Mr. Gore's home state. Mr. Thompson, 57, could help Mr. Bush four ways.

The former actor endorsed Mr. McCain's presidential campaign and could be a conduit to his supporters. Mr. Thompson held hearings on the Clinton-Gore campaign-finance scandals and could speak knowledgeably about what may be Mr. Gore's greatest vulnerability. Mr. Thompson, who had roles in movies such as "The Hunt for Red October," is comfortable before the cameras.

Perhaps most importantly, he would force Mr. Gore to fight for Tennessee's 11 electoral votes and for those in bordering swing states such as Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas and Georgia.

Michigan Gov. John Engler, a Republican, heads up a critical swing state with 18 electoral votes. Mr. Engler appeared to hurt his chances when he guaranteed Mr. Bush a victory in the Michigan primary but failed to deliver and Mr. McCain prevailed.

Analysts expect Mr. Gore to run strong on the West Coast, in New York and in New England. Mr. Bush is expected to prevail in the Rocky Mountain states, in the Great Plains and through most of the South, leaving the Rust Belt as the battleground.

Mr. Gore, lacking a Democratic governor in the Rust Belt, may try to play sniper in the South. Picking Mr. Graham, a two-term senator and a former Florida governor, could help him fight for a critical state with 25 electoral votes.

Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor of Florida. A GOP win there would help balance Mr. Gore's strength in California and New York. But Mr. Gore is fighting for the state.

Mr. Gore, hoping to attract Florida's 800,000 Cuban-Americans, broke with President Clinton last week and said he supports permanent residence status for Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old boy whose mother drowned as they sailed for the United States. Mr. Graham authored the bill.

But picking Mr. Graham, 63, would be a gamble for Mr. Gore.

"The state is leaning heavily Republican and even Gore's selection of Graham would not alter that fact much," Richard Scher, a political science professor at the University of Florida, told Reuters news agency. "Graham can't deliver the state to Gore. Nobody can do that."

If Florida appears impossible, Mr. Gore might opt for North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, hoping to steal a nominally Republican state with 14 electoral votes. Mr. Hunt, 63, has served as North Carolina's governor for 16 years in two eight-year stints.

Mr. Clinton narrowly lost North Carolina in 1992 and in 1996. Mr. Hunt might make the difference, but Mr. Gore's renewed call for federal regulation of tobacco could prove a hindrance in the nation's largest tobacco-growing state.

"Hunt is very popular in North Carolina," Mr. Duffy said. "As bad as Gore is on tobacco, Hunt is that popular on education."

Mr. Durbin, 55, a first-term senator elected in 1996, might help Mr. Gore nail down 22 electoral votes in Illinois, a Midwest battleground. Mr. Durbin, a Roman Catholic, could help among the Midwest's blue-collar Catholics, many of whom became Reagan Democrats.

But Mr. Gore might not need help in Illinois, which gave Mr. Clinton a 15-point margin in 1992 and a 17-point victory in 1996. Republicans say they would portray Mr. Durbin as an unabashed liberal.

"If they put Durbin on the ticket, we're running against Michael Dukakis," Mr. Burkman said, referring to the liberal Massachusetts governor who was the party's losing 1988 presidential nominee.

Sometimes geographic balance works wonders. In 1960, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy tapped Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas and eked out a tight victory over Vice President Richard Nixon.

In 1988, Democrat Michael Dukakis tried and failed to rekindle the Massachusetts-Texas formula of 1960. Mr. Dukakis picked Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, but the gambit did not help him against George Bush, the Texas governor's father.

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