- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2000

George W. Bush has narrowed his list of possible running mates down to about four candidates, including two senators and two governors, as he nears a final decision.
Among the vice-presidential choices vetted by the Bush campaign, four of the remaining names on Mr. Bush's dwindling list are said to include Govs. Frank Keating of Oklahoma and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, and Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Fred Thompson of Tennessee, according to officials involved in the vetting process.
The screening is being run by former Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's campaign strategist. Mr. Rove said yesterday that Mr. Cheney and the governor "speak two to three times a day about it."
Contrary to the impression that Mr. Bush conveyed to reporters last week that he's keeping the selection process tightly under wraps and that only he, his wife, Laura, and Mr. Cheney know who are still being considered, Mr. Rove said Mr. Bush was seeking advice from a number of people throughout the party. "He's asking a lot of people about it. He's talking to a lot of people and getting a lot of opinions," he said.
Meantime, Mr. Ridge, one of the remaining names on Mr. Bush's short list, was coming under renewed opposition from a Catholic bishop and pro-life activists for his pro-choice views on abortion that party insiders believe will rule him out of consideration.
Bishop Donald Trautman, Mr. Ridge's own pastor, has been a critic of the Pennsylvania governor for his views on abortion. He urged Mr. Bush last week "to seek someone who represents his pro-life values and the values of his pro-life constituency."
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Thursday, Bishop Trautman revealed for the first time that when Mr. Ridge was about to be given an honorary degree from a local Catholic college several years ago, "I stopped it."
Mr. Ridge's views on abortion also mean he is banned from speaking at church facilities in Pennsylvania.
In a heavily Catholic state that could be pivotal to Mr. Bush's election, the bishop said that because of Mr. Ridge's support for abortion rights, he is not "a credible Catholic."
The National Right to Life Committee, the largest pro-life lobbying group in the country, supports Mr. Bush and is urging him to choose a pro-life running mate.
"Ridge had a pro-abortion voting record in Congress," said Darla St. Martin, assistant executive director for the group. "We have always urged a pro-life presidential candidate to choose a pro-life running mate," she said.
Republican insiders also said Friday the Bush campaign has checked out the pro-life records of the remaining choices on his list with the National Right to Life Committee. But an NRLC official refused to confirm that.
"That's an area that we don't discuss," Ms. St. Martin said. She added that Messrs. Thompson, Hagel and Keating all have "strong pro-life records."
Interestingly, two of the senators said to be on the whittled-down list had supported Arizona Sen. John McCain, largely because of his campaign finance reform proposals.
Mr. Thompson, who led the Senate's investigation into the administration's campaign finance scandal, originally supported former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander's presidential bid. But when he bowed out of the race, Mr. Thompson threw his support to Mr. McCain.
When Mr. McCain ended his candidacy in March, Mr. Thompson declared his support for Mr. Bush and has since campaigned for him and performed surrogate speaking assignments.
Mr. Thompson is acknowledged to be the Republicans' leading expert on the White House fund-raising scandal and has been calling for a special prosecutor to investigate it.
A speech that he gave Thursday at the Cato Institute in Washington accused the administration of stonewalling investigations into the scandal and using tactics that have "undermined the rule of law" in the country.
Mr. Hagel, who once sought the job of Senate majority leader, sits on the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee and would bring foreign policy experience to the ticket, his supporters say.
But Mr. Bush, who is running as an outsider bent on reform and has at times been critical of the Washington political establishment, is reported to be weighing whether he wants a running mate who is identified with Washington.
Mr. Keating, a Catholic and former FBI official, is strongly supported by the party's social conservative wing. But there are many in the party who think Mr. Keating is too dull to conduct the kind of vigorous campaign Mr. Bush needs in the rough and tumble election battle to come.
"He's flattered that he is being considered. But he doesn't really think that all of the speculation is going anywhere for him," said his press secretary, Dan Mahoney.
Nevertheless, the soft-spoken Oklahoma governor is hoping to burnish his socially conservative credentials here Thursday when he gives a speech at the Heritage Foundation on the subject of "Making Marriage Matter."
Mr. Keating, who is concerned about the growing number of divorces in his state, has begun an ambitious public-private partnership to reduce Oklahoma's divorce rate by one-third by the year 2010.

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