- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There will be breathless speculation, short lists and long lists as Democrats and Republicans in the veepstakes are vetted and weighed in the next two months. Yet the choice for the No. 2 slot rarely matters.

Pundits will analyze demographics and states that might just swing for one candidate with the right choice. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton can help Sen. Barack Obama win over women, they will muse. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will make sure the crucial Sunshine State remains in the Republican column for Sen. John McCain, they will ponder.

For all the fuss over who the presumptive nominees will select next month, recent history suggests a vice presidential choice won’t impact the results of race for the White House.

“This is not an open vote; this is a decision of one person,” former Vice President Dan Quayle told The Washington Times in an interview.

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Vice President Dick Cheney is fond of joking that President Bush chose him to deliver Wyoming’s whopping three electoral votes.

Sen. John Kerry was applauded for choosing an optimistic Southern boy who could deliver states that usually go to the Republicans.

The reasons abound for why it didn’t happen - John Edwards didn’t even win his home state of North Carolina - but the fact remains that his presence on the ticket factored little when voters headed to the polls.

“That’s not the way it works anymore, thanks to the TV age. Picking someone because of the state they are from is totally antiquated,” said campaign veteran Simon Rosenberg of the liberal think tank NDN.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe perhaps tipped his hand last month during a briefing with reporters in Washington when The Washington Times asked if he philosophically believes a vice presidential pick can deliver a state.

“We certainly don’t want to pick someone who will hurt,” he quipped and cited Mr. Cheney as an example of how states have not mattered in recent elections. He also noted that Al Gore’s coming from Tennessee did not tip the balance for Bill Clinton in 1992 because Mr. Clinton would have won the state anyway.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a factor in the selection,” Mr. Plouffe said.

He added that the most important factor would be whether the person was qualified and would be “a partner in governing,”

Mr. Quayle similarly identified the factors for selection and ranked any geographic or demographic considerations last behind being qualified to be president, loyalty and comfort.

“The first two things are so much more important. Geography can be a factor, but it’s not a critical factor,” he said, even though hailing from Indiana helped him get the job in 1988.

He said when Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts did not choose John Glenn of Ohio, it “left the Midwest wide open, which was a big plus for me.”

Mr. Rosenberg, who was top operative in Mr. Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and has been working in politics for decades, said Texan Lloyd Bentsen “didn’t really feel like he fit into” the Dukakis campaign in 1988 but was chosen because he helped balance the ticket geographically.

“The single most important thing is it has to be somebody Barack Obama actually likes,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “This is the greatest battle of your life, and you should have someone you know and trust at your side.”

For Mr. Obama, there are several names on the so-called long list that fit that description.

Topping the list could be his close friend Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, elected in 2005 and the first prominent Democrat to take a chance on Mr. Obama, then a political newcomer, with an endorsement in 2007.

Mr. Kaine, a Spanish speaker, has not ruled out accepting the spot if asked. He also has the credentials of winning in a red state the year after its voters chose Mr. Bush for a second term.

Also in the close circle is Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, nearly 70, has been rumored for decades to be on Democratic short lists.

“It’s always nice to have your name mentioned,” he told reporters last week when appearing with Mr. Obama at a campaign event. “It’s an honor, but I have no expectations of being offered any office. … I think the chances of an offer are pretty slim.”

Mr. Quayle likened the vetting process to getting “security clearance for classified sensitive information” and said campaign officials will dig into financial records and talk to friends and family.

“It’s basically them saying that everything that you’ve done in the past will become public, so tell us what we need to know, give us the warts and all,” he said. “Everybody’s got warts; let’s get it on the table.”

Mr. Obama told reporters any leaks of who is or is not being considered aren’t accurate and promised the next time he spoke about the selection would be once he had made it.

Another theory is that the candidates would have to pick someone who would balance out their perceived shortcomings.

Mr. McCain would need someone good on the economy because it’s not his strength or someone young because he would be the nation’s oldest president.

Mr. Obama would need a gray-haired “experienced” hand or someone with military or foreign-policy credentials because he lacks those things.

Maybe, maybe not.

“When has a presidential administration ever been about the vice president?” asked Jim Dean of the progressive group Democracy for America.

“I would advise Senator Obama not to get too caught up in whether the person hails from this group or that group. If you piled up all the ideal stuff you’d ever want from a vice president, you’d get Superman,” he added.

Mr. Rosenberg said it is important for Mr. Obama to choose someone “like him, someone that reinforces his brand.”

Longtime history buffs agree that voters pick a president, and if they are on the fence, it’s unlikely a vice presidential pick will change their minds.

Nevertheless, Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group, says he thinks the No. 2 contender will weigh heavy on the race.

“Running-mate selection this year will be more important than usual,” he said when releasing a poll of qualifications voters want in the running mates. “Because of Obama’s newness on the national scene, his pick will help define his own candidacy. Because of McCain’s need to both energize his party’s base and distance himself from President Bush, his pick will help define his vision for America as well as his vision for the Republican Party’s future.”

1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern detailed his vice presidential selection advice in a recent interview with Huffington Post.

“Remember the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take: First do no harm,” he said. “You want to be sure that whoever you pick is not going to prove to be a controversial person and make it more difficult for you to run.”

He admitted his vetting of Sen. Thomas Eagleton was lacking because of a shortened time frame, and he later had to choose someone else after it was revealed his pick had mental health problems.

“The first half dozen people that I chose turned me down. I guess they didn’t think I had a chance to win or they just didn’t want to be vice president. I was really up to fifteen minutes before the deadline when I chose Sen. Eagleton,” Mr. McGovern told Huffington Post.

Mr. Quayle had just two hours’ notice to prepare for taking the spot on the ticket with Republican George H.W. Bush, beating out Bob Dole.

“You should get somebody who can take over the job on a moment’s notice if necessary, somebody who has the qualifications you would want in a successful president,” Mr. McGovern said. “And then, if you can find somebody who could help you politically - for instance, picking up a state or several states [where] you might feel you need some buttressing, and that would be important too.”

The Clarus poll done late last month shows 27 percent of Republican voters want Mr. McCain to choose a “strong conservative” - the most important quality for those surveyed. Democrats hope Mr. Obama chooses someone with economic or military and foreign-policy experience.

“Most GOP voters would prefer a conservative executive type over a moderate legislative type to be their vice presidential nominee,” Mr. Faucheux said. “Republican voters seem to want to balance what they see as McCain’s own weaknesses with a running mate who supplies compensating strengths.”

The Obama results indicate “many Democrats believe their youthful presidential nominee has an opportunity to fill gaps in his own resume with an experienced vice presidential candidate,” he said.

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