- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2000

With the primary season all but over, talk among Republican leaders, party insiders and pollsters has turned to the choices for a presidential running mate for Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

The traditional concerns are being weighted. Ideally, a vice presidential choice should give regional balance and bring a heavyweight state along. But other factors, like abortion, are important considerations in Mr. Bush's decision.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and New York Gov. George Pataki are among the names that come up as possibilities, but with some reservations.

Either of them would help the Republican ticket in the fall if Mr. Bush's chief criterion is someone who could bring a major Midwest or Northeast battleground state. Both Pennsylvania and New York are heavyweights in the Electoral College, and both states have favored Democrats in the last two presidential elections.

But, as Republican leaders often noted privately, Mr. Pataki, 54, and Mr. Ridge, 54, are pro-choice on abortion, and thus might alienate Mr. Bush's Christian conservative voters, who could either work less hard for his election or stay home altogether.

"Political pragmatists in the Republican Party are looking at which state can bring the most electoral votes, but that is not the standard the Christian conservatives look to," said Lyn Wyndel, a Republican National Committee member form Oklahoma. "That is a dilemma Bush will have to address.

Several senior Senate Republicans privately name Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a pro-life Catholic, and Ohio Rep. John R. Kasich, a pro-life Catholic-turned-Protestant, as more likely choices for Mr. Bush than either Mr. Pataki or Mr. Ridge.

Republican pollster Ed Goeas agreed with that assessment, noting that his surveys, done with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, consistently show that more than 40 percent of voters identify themselves as born-again Christians or evangelicals.

"That's a greater percentage than those who identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans," he said.

"The assumption by moderates is that conservatives, including Christian conservatives, have no place to go," said Mr. Wyndel. "But we know in the 1998 congressional elections, 5 million conservatives stayed home."

"Ridge would make a terrific choice in many ways, but his contradiction of being a Catholic and pro-choice creates a serious impediment," Mr. Wyndel said. "The same goes for Pataki."

"Keating and Bush, however, are truly close personal friends," said Mr. Wyndel.

Mr. Keating, 56, an ex-FBI agent, has Washington experience. He served in the Treasury Department in the Reagan administration and in the Justice Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department under President Bush.

"Keating has a squeaky clean record," Mr. Goeas notes. "He is a pro-life Catholic who complements Bush's message about being a compassionate conservative and bringing faith-based organizations forward."

Mr. Goeas said the Republican electorate is very much made up of "baby boomers, married with children at home, so it makes even more sense for the Republicans than for the Democrats to have a baby-boomer ticket."

Rep. Kasich also meets these criteria. "He complements Bush's message and is a pro-life Catholic turned Protestant," Mr. Goeas said.

The Democrats hold their nominating convention this summer before the Republicans, and could pick a woman to run with Al Gore.

But some Republicans say that doesn't necessarily put pressure on George W. Bush to consider Elizabeth Dole, who has campaigned for him, for second spot on the Republican ticket.

"She would be at head of list had she not run for the nomination and done so poorly," said Mr. Wyndel. "She would attract women, but Bush is not doing poorly among women."

The latest Newsweek poll, conducted March 9-10, shows Mr. Bush leading Mr. Gore 47 percent to 44 percent among all voters and by 49 percent to 43 percent among men. As for the much-vaunted "gender gap," Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore run dead even with women, 45 percent to 45 percent.

The polls do not reinforce the argument by centrist Republicans that Mr. Bush needs to choose a pro-choice, centrist running mate to offset the strong support he received in the primaries from Christian conservatives.

Only 26 percent of all adults and 28 percent of registered voters sampled said the "religious right" has too much influence over Mr. Bush, in the latest Time-CNN poll, conducted March 8-9.

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