- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It’s too early — way too early, ridiculously early — but like it or not, the sweepstakes for the Republican veep nomination already has begun.

Photos:Potomac primaries

With Sen. John McCain quickly becoming the apparent Republican presidential nominee, talk at his Virginia victory party last night was already shifting to whom he would pick — could pick, should pick — as his vice presidential running mate.

The inside-the-Beltway sport of trying to divine a presidential candidate’s running mate comes with several tried-and-true rules, beginning with defining what qualities will offset the political weaknesses at the top of the ticket.

First, Mr. McCain likely will go for someone from outside Washington — most probably a governor. For the four-term Arizona senator, that would offset his 25 years in Congress, muting a target for Democrats — his Washington-insider status.

“John McCain certainly isn’t a creature of the Beltway in most respects, but he has been in Congress awhile, so having someone on the ticket who can talk about change will help,” said Dan Schnur, who was communications director for McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.

Mr. Schnur said the “two most likely plausible ones that I hear bandied about” are South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Another outsider is newly elected Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a rising star in the Republican Party.

The man or woman whom Mr. McCain selects will almost definitely be more conservative than the moderate maverick senator and likely will be popular among evangelicals, such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, or race dropout Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.

“He needs a running mate who can send a strong signal to conservatives, that their priorities are important to him,” Mr. Schnur said.

Mr. Jindal stands up well there, too, as conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, who has excoriated Mr. McCain as a traitor to the conservative movement, recently dubbed the governor “the next Ronald Reagan.”

The candidate could well be from the South — Mr. Sanford and Mr. Jindal fit that bill — or maybe the East — Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who split with the Democratic Party and has backed Mr. McCain — fills that criteria. But making a choice based on region no longer appears to be as important as it once was.

“I don’t think that’s very important this time,” said Pat Toomey, president of the anti-tax Club for Growth and former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. “In this race and in this context, ideological balance is much more important.”

The final rule is one George H.W. Bush knew only too well, and it will be much more important than it has ever been: The vice presidential choice will almost certainly be young, maybe even in his 30s, to offset the fact that if elected, Mr. McCain would be 72 on Inauguration Day — the oldest president ever sworn in.

For the record, Mr. Sanford and Mr. Pawlenty are both 47 — a year older than the Democrat now selling change in Washington, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Mr. Jindal, at just 36, barely meets the constitutional age required to run for president. Then-Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana, Mr. Bush’s running mate in 1988, was just 40 when he was tapped to balance out the ticket.

Some candidates appear to be eager for the job — Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was at last night”s party, makes no bones about his openness to the slot. And many political pundits speculate that Mr. Huckabee, who is still battling Mr. McCain for the nomination, is positioning himself as the clear choice.

The Baptist preacher, popular among some conservatives and especially with evangelicals, demurs when asked.

“Let’s go ahead and be honest now,” he said last week, “nobody ever wants the vice president’s job.” Then he is more honest: “Nobody ever turns it down.”

And he does have one thing up his sleeve: “My wife’s maiden name was McCain,” he said recently. “Almost 34 years ago, the Huckabee-McCain ticket became one. It’s worked very well all these years.”

Conservative leaders, though, don’t see Mr. Huckabee — who has won several Southern states — as the running mate to offset Mr. McCain’s political weaknesses.

“I think Mike Huckabee would be a disaster for the ticket, and he probably drives away some independents and Democrats who might otherwise find Senator McCain appealing, but he will also drive away economic conservatives,” Mr. Toomey said. “I think he would be among the worst possible choices.”

So who would be good?

“A solid conservative,” Mr. Toomey said with a laugh, ticking off the names of Mr. Sanford, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, and Steve Forbes, chief executive officer of Forbes Inc. and a former presidential candidate.

But other names keep popping up as well: Some seem more novelty than reality, but several offer benefits to Mr. McCain. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is one, in part because the Democrats are about to put up either the first woman or the first black as their candidate.

She has the conservative bona fides: She is ardently pro-Second Amendment, has a solid pro-life voting record and is fiercely anti-tax.

Mr. Jindal appears again on this list: The Republican was born to Indian immigrants.

Still, some appear to be pulling their names off the list for the job once dubbed “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Mr. Pawlenty said last April: “For the 900th time, I am not running for vice president. I don’t want to be vice president.”

And Mr. Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000 with Al Gore, also took a big step back, saying that if Mr. McCain asks him: “I’d tell him, ‘Thanks, John, I’ve been there. I’ve done that. You can find much better.’ ”

McCAIN’S NO. 2

The following names have been raised as possible vice presidential running mates for the likely Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona:

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford: Strong conservative credentials, would be great for outreach to Mr. McCain’s conservative critics.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist: Popular governor who helped deliver Florida in the primary, could help deliver it in the general election.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas: Provides a conservative-leaning female face to round out the ticket.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: Moderate Republican who was an early supporter of Mr. McCain’s, could help deliver his swing state in the general election.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: Rising star among Republicans, he has many already thinking president.

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana: Solid conservative pick.

Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina: Friend of Mr. McCain’s and an early supporter in the campaign.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: Longtime supporter on issue after issue, and possibly his closest partner in the Senate.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: Would bring balance to the ticket demographically and would underscore the national security credentials of the Republican team.

Source: The Washington Times


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