- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

This is the busy season for the Great Mentioner, the equivalent of late October for the Great Pumpkin or early April for the Easter Bunny.

The Great Mentioner, first discovered by Russell Baker of the New York Times, is particularly good to lazy pundits in search of an easy column about likely prospects for vice president.

Pundits and political correspondents are reduced just now to either writing and talking about taxes, George W.'s youthful drug/alcohol/ girl adventures (if any), the continuing turmoil in the Democratic campaign, the press releases that Pvt. Al Gore wrote in Vietnam … or who the prospective veeps will be.

Such columns, usually Valentines for punditorial favorites, invariably end with the throwaway cliche: " … also mentioned are Gov. Elmer Whoozit of Wherezit, Sen. Phineas Phogbound of West Gondola and Gen. Jubilation T. Cornpone, the hero of Cornpone's Rout."

Such essays are meaningless Valentines just now because nobody knows who either Al or W. will choose because neither man has the slightest idea himself. Both men no doubt have their favorites. But a lot of things can happen to prospective choices, and some of them are sure to be bad, between now and the end of July when, on the eve of the conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, W. and Al will make up their minds.

But in this sultry season of the rockets' red glare almost anybody can get the attention of the Great Mentioner, even someone like Rep. David Bonior, the Democratic whip who camps out, in the observation of Norman Ornstein, "beyond the known solar system." In this view, which nobody disputes, the Great Mentioner gave Mr. Bonior his moment as a Valentine for Big Labor.

The Great Mentioner was a little more serious, though not a lot, with a mention of Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, the House minority leader who has a much better chance of becoming the speaker of the House. All that has to happen is for the Democrats to win control of the House, which they will do unless the Republican slogan of Vote Republican, we're not as bad as you think works better than a lot of people, and not all of them Democrats, think it will, although a similar slogan in the presidential race, Vote for George W., he's not Al Gore, is striking sparks.

It's not much fun writing the same fanciful predictions everyone else is fancifully predicting. Anyone can (and will) say that Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska or Connie Mack of Florida are keen Republican prospects, since everyone has seen dozens of stories about them, dissecting their views on abortion, the nuclear shield, Social Security reform, and tax cuts. Everyone is weary of writing about Tom Ridge, which is why, for a fortnight, Frank Keating, the governor of Oklahoma, was hot. But now, well, maybe he's not.

Since this looks like it might be a BOMFOG campaign the acronym for the climax of Nelson Rockefeller's "brotherhood of man, fatherhood of God" stump speech neither candidate will try to keep the nation awake. Both Al and W. are looking for pale gray running mates to deck out in inoffensive earth tones.

However, an arcane issue will nearly always disrupt the campaign, threatening a candidate before quickly disappearing, never to be heard from again. In such times a gray running mate can be helpful. Henry Cabot Lodge, for example.

In that year (1960), Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were thrown off their stride in mid-October by the suddenly white-hot question of whether the United States should risk war with Red China over the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu, claimed by Taiwan. The question was nicely put in perspective when a reporter in Jackson with nothing much to do asked the late, great Gov. Ross Barnett of Mississippi what should be done about Quemoy and Matsu.

The governor was ready for the question even though he clearly had never heard of either Quemoy, Matsu or maybe even China. "That's all been taken care of," he said. "We found jobs for 'em at the Game and Fish Commission." This is the kind of campaign disruption a political correspondent dreams of, though a candidate does not.

The Great Mentioner, being at least partly human, naturally has his own sentimental favorites. Two of them, according to the usual anonymous sources, are Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, a Baptist preacher who is one of the best spellers and binders left in American politics, and Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington, who is tough, smart, ambitious and savvy and who can't help it if she's drop-dead gorgeous in a time and place when and where feminists say men are pigs if they notice. The ugly little secret is that the Great Mentioner is a bit of a male chauvinist his own self.

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