- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Now that we know who the two major party presidential nominees will be, it is time to begin in earnest that curious quadrennial ritual of speculating who each nominee will select as his running mate.

With notable exceptions, the actual person chosen is rarely someone who was in the top tier of those predicted. Consider Harry Truman and John Bricker in 1944, Alban Barkley and Earl Warren in 1948, John Sparkman and Richard Nixon in 1952, Estes Kefauver in1956, Henry Cabot Lodge and Lyndon Johnson in 1960, William Miller in 1964, Ed Muskie and Spiro Agnew in 1968, Thomas Eagleton in 1972, Bob Dole in 1976, Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle in 1988, Al Gore in 1992, and Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman in 2000 - the large majority of running-mate picks were surprises. When you count six incumbent vice presidents running in those years, only a relatively few of the final choices were even predicted to be likely choices.

I am therefore going to suggest which vice presidential choices might be “best” for each nominee and for the country.

John McCain is old, strong on foreign policy and weaker on domestic policy. He is a lifetime legislator, pro-lifer and a maverick conservative who appeals to the political center. His vice presidential choice could be a younger person, with executive and, if possible, congressional experience. The running mate also could be Catholic and a combat veteran, appeal to Democratic women who are upset about the defeat of Hillary Clinton - and remain attractive to independents, fiscal conservatives and blue-collar and ethnic voters.

The only Republican who fits that description is former Erie, Pa., prosecutor, congressman, successful and popular two-term governor and the first Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. (Full disclosure: I have known him since he was in Congress). Mr. Ridge was a scholarship student at Harvard, and later an enlisted man in Vietnam where he won two battlefield bronze stars. He is a Catholic from an ethnic working-class background, and is a vigorous 62. He is almost the perfect running mate.

Except for one matter. As congressman and governor he was considered moderately pro-choice. He opposes partial-birth abortion - but he always held the position that his public job was to follow the law (which was Roe v. Wade). In today’s Republican Party, this position is considered disqualifying. Reportedly, Mr. Ridge was George W. Bush’s first choice in 2000. However, after several Catholic bishops privately opposed Mr. Ridge, the choice became Dick Cheney.

Even his strongest GOP opponents concede Mr. Ridge is one of the few available Republicans today who has instant credibility for the vice presidency. And 2008 is not 2000. Then, the Republican nominee had to coalesce the various factions of his party into a solid bloc to overcome incumbent Vice President Al Gore running as the Democratic nominee for president. In 2008, the only way a Republican nominee can win is by attracting disgruntled and moderate Democrats, and independents.

Barack Obama is young and inexperienced. Yet he is articulate and charismatic. A state legislator and first-term senator, he has little executive background. The first black nominee for either party, his record is mostly unknown by the general voting public. His vice president could be older, with lots of foreign policy experience, a serious domestic record, and someone who the voting public knows and trusts. Since Mr. Obama has so far shown great appeal to urban, educated, upper-middle-class voters, his vice president should have some appeal to blue-collar voters. The man who fits this description is Joe Biden. Mr. Biden is 65, and has served in the Senate representing Delaware since 1973. He has been the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, and is currently the chairman of the Foreign Relations committee. Mr. Biden is a blue collar, Irish-American Catholic born in Scranton, Penn. He ran for president in 1988 and again this year. His campaign was lackluster but by the Iowa caucus he had overcome long-windedness and other problems - and he had the respect of his rivals and the media. His selection fills in troubling political gaps in Mr. Obama’s resume.

As mentioned, these two persons probably should be their party’s vice presidential nominees, but I am not predicting they will be. Presidential nominees usually make idiosyncratic choices for their running mates, and usually it is necessary, other qualifications notwithstanding, that there is a personal chemistry between them.

In fact, I think it likely that when the two choices are announced - sometime later this year - we will all be somewhat surprised.

Barry Casselman writes for Preludium News Service.

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