- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ROCHESTER, N.H. | With the American press corps - make that the entire global media conglomerate - tracking every move of Sen. Barack Obama across the Middle East and Europe, how on earth does Sen. John McCain break into the news?

By floating a little veep talk, that’s how.

Of course, no one in the McCain campaign would talk publicly about the genesis of a rumor that swept through the traveling press corps after a veteran conservative columnist reported that the Republican “will reveal the name of his vice presidential selection this week.”

Nevermind that the timing seemed absurd - Americans are weary of election politics and busy with backyard barbecues, and every one of the possible vice-presidential choices comes with drawbacks and are still being vetted by McCain advisers.

“I don’t think McCain should pick a running mate before Obama does,” said David Norcross, a Republican National Committee member who ran the 2004 presidential nominating convention in New York. “McCain doesn’t gain anything by doing it now.”

More problematic, though, is who will be the Arizona Republican’s choice. None of the most frequently mentioned names seems to be without significant drawbacks, and if the list of choices is accurate, McCain officials are busy vetting as many a dozen people.

The senator drops in on Thursday to New Orleans, where he will hold an event with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whom many mention as a top choice but who some top McCain aides say is not among the finalists.

“McCain probably has socks and ties that are older,” pollster John Zogby said of Mr. Jindal, who is 37. The 71-year-old senator would be the oldest president elected if he wins, and most political pundits agree that he needs a second in command who needs no on-the-job training.

Insiders thought South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford would be a sure bet because he is highly regarded by conservatives. He is young, good-looking and not the type to upstage Mr. McCain.

But he has twin problems: Conservatives may not be so hot on him when they are reminded that he strongly supported Mr. McCain in the 2000 Republican presidential primary, even though Mr. McCain was the target of conservative criticism and had dished out criticism of his own about conservatives.

Second, in a recent national TV interview, Mr. Sanford flubbed his lines so badly that even his biggest fans were embarrassed for him.

The wildfire began when Robert Novak posted a brief item that said this: “Sources close to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign are suggesting he will reveal the name of his vice presidential selection this week while Sen. Barack Obama is getting the headlines on his foreign trip. The name of McCain’s running mate has not been disclosed, but Mitt Romney has led the speculation recently.”

Mr. Novak, clearly miffed, said on Fox News that his report may have been “a dodge” to turn news coverage away from Mr. Obama.

“I got a suggestion from a very senior McCain aide … that he was going to announce it this week” and that the campaign “suggested I put it out.” He said he called another aide who mused, “Wouldn’t this be a terrific week to announce it … so I just put something on the Internet.”

“They were trying to get a little publicity to rain on Obama’s campaign. That’s pretty reprehensible if it’s true,” Mr. Novak said.

Mr. McCain and his top aides didn’t seem to mind leaving the story unaddressed and unchecked.

Mr. McCain waved off reporters on his Straight Talk Express plane when they slipped through the curtain to confront him about the report. “What do you want, you little jerks?” the senator said with a smile before waving off anxious reporters with his trademark mischievous grin.

But the report - linked on the Drudge Report to ensure worldwide distribution - caused a firestorm of speculation that prompted one network news organization to call in a satellite truck so its correspondent could do a live morning shot about the rumor.

“It wasn’t me,” said senior adviser Mark Salter, who said the candidate has told his entire staff that only he is to speak about his vice-presidential selection.

Aide Brooke Buchanan said only that “we don’t have any announcements today.” Today? And the Tuesday schedule fed more speculation, listing a 1:20 p.m. event only as “TBA OTR” (that’s a “to be announced off-the-record” event).

The doldrums of August are just around the corner, and the Olympics will take center stage from Aug. 8 to 24. The next day, the Democratic National Committee starts its national convention to nominate its candidate, so many speculate that Mr. McCain will not announce his running mate until the last few days of August at the earliest.

Mr. Romney - telegenic, personally wealthy, well-spoken, teleprompter-savvy, a successful businessman, literate about economics and “vetted” as one of Mr. McCain’s rivals for the nomination earlier this year - has risen to the top.

The problem is he is a Mormon, and many evangelicals do not regard Mormonism as a form of Christianity. Some oppose him also for his having changed from favoring the right to choose on abortion to his campaign vow to reverse Roe v. Wade, the case that made abortion a right.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who finished second to Mr. McCain in the number of delegates collected during the primary season, soothes evangelicals, but he appears likely to upstage his boss if selected.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is very much like Mr. Sanford, but in this case could deliver a Democratic stronghold, if, that is, he wasn’t “always more interested in himself than what we were doing,” as senior Republican official who has worked with him put it. “And when came to raising money for the convention, he was pretty much useless.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat turned independent who endorsed Mr. McCain, says he doesn’t want the job, which is just fine with one senior Republican Party official, who said, “Lieberman would be the worst possible choice.”

“He’s a Democrat and a liberal and thus would confirm the base’s worst suspicions about McCain,” the official said.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has often been at Mr. McCain’s elbow, and having a popular governor in a battleground state can be helpful. But Mr. Crist is “a lightweight, and if we can’t take Florida without him, we can’t win anyway,” said a Republican who has worked with Mr. Crist.

cRalph Z. Hallow reported from Washington.