- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2000

Democratic strategists want Al Gore to pick a national party figure for his vice presidential running mate, someone who can help him unite and energize his base and appeal to independents and women.

These Democrats shudder at the idea of Mr. Gore choosing a regional Democrat such as Sens. Bob Graham of Florida or Dick Durbin of Illinois who might be able to deliver a key state but who would bomb elsewhere in the country.

First, it is doubtful that a running mate can deliver a state anymore. Geraldine Ferraro didn't do it in 1984. Neither did Lloyd Bentsen in 1988. The truth is, the old politics of geographical balance no longer works in the modern telecommunications era.

The strategists are telling Mr. Gore to look for a well-known, telegenic Democrat with broad national appeal who can make the case for Mr. Gore's candidacy.

"My choice would be to pick someone from the list of national candidates that does not rely on a single-state candidacy," California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres told me.

"It worked for us in 1992 with Clinton and Gore, and it can work for the vice president if he chooses someone who has good chemistry with him and can give people a sense of confidence in the team," Mr. Torres said.

Mr. Gore is getting the same advice from his California strategist, Garry South, who is also the chief political adviser of Gov. Gray Davis. "You need to make a larger case for yourself through your vice presidential pick than just winning one particular state," Mr. South told me.

Mr. Gore, he said, will follow the same vice presidential playbook Bill Clinton wrote in 1992. Tennessee carries few electoral votes, but Mr. Gore was an appealing, energetic, nationally known Democrat who brought generational excitement and enthusiasm to the ticket.

That's why these Democrats think Mr. Gore will choose one of the party's superstars, such as Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, a party centrist and former two-term governor with movie-star appeal; or Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Vietnam War hero and former lieutenant governor who is now in his third term and is ready to step out from under Ted Kennedy's shadow.

Or he might pick House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, whose nomination would have the AFL-CIO's leaders cheering and might bring the renegade Teamsters and UAW unions back into the fold behind Mr. Gore's candidacy. Mr. Gephardt says he isn't interested, but it would be premature to rule him out completely, say advisers close to the Missouri Democrat.

"Kerry, Bayh and Gephardt fit the mold of a national candidate," Mr. Torres told me.

This is why late last week Mr. Bayh and Mr. Kerry were getting more attention from the vice president's strategists and why the senators' top advisers were burning up the telephone lines promoting them.

"For Democrats, the road to the White House rests on getting votes from swing Democrats, independents and women, and no one is better at doing that than John Kerry," said Mary Anne Marsh, the senator's chief political adviser.

"It's not about geography anymore. It's about generational compatibility and who can help make the strongest case for Gore as president," she told me. Mr. Kerry, she added, would take it if asked.

Still, despite their broad popularity within the party, each comes with his own set of troubles.

As a Massachusetts Democrat and longtime Kennedy cheerleader, Mr. Kerry is stuck with the image of being a Northeast liberal in an emerging era of center-right politics.

Still, he has shown an ability to move right on some strategic issues. He has talked about inserting "more choice" into the educational system with charter schools and even voucher systems for the worst school districts. Like other New Democrats, Mr. Kerry thinks America's economic future is in global trade.

Mr. Bayh, too, made his reputation as a New Democrat governor who like California's Gray Davis emphasized education and fiscal prudence. He has been one of the stars of the Democratic Leadership Council, which Mr. Clinton once chaired.

But Mr. Bayh is also remembered for his long, boring nominating speech at the last Democratic Convention. And, more recently, he has come under bitter attack from far-left feminists at the National Organization for Women because he supports a ban on partial-birth abortion.

Will Mr. Gore bite the bullet and choose someone who is opposed by NOW? And what would the National Education Association say about Mr. Kerry's flirtation with school choice?

That's why there is more at stake in Mr. Gore's decision than just picking a running mate who is generally compatible and who can reach outside the party to the vital center. He is going to have to show he is willing to challenge some of his party's entrenched liberal special interests and be his own man.

Mr. Clinton had the political skills to unite his party's various factions, but Mr. Gore has yet to prove he knows how to do that. His decision on a running mate will be his first big test.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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