Who'll be number two? The old game of geographical diversity is out the
window. Both parties are looking for a strong brand name.
by Seth Gitell
By 8 P.M. next Tuesday, more than two-thirds of the
delegates to both parties' conventions will have been decided. That's when the
focus of the campaigns still in contention -- those of John McCain, George W.
Bush, and Al Gore -- will turn toward vice-presidential picks.
Behind-the-scenes operators are already preparing their lists of potential
The choices will turn on several questions. Will the campaign have to rely on
geography, making a politician from a large swing state attractive? Does the
presidential candidate need a running mate who can bring in a new group or
constituency? Does he want to fill out the ticket with a "Mini-Me" -- someone
just like himself -- the way Clinton did when he picked Gore? Finally, how
imaginative will the candidate have to be in making his selection?
Some of these questions will be answered when it's clear who the GOP nominee
will be. Gore's pick will surely be contingent on whether he runs against Bush
or McCain -- and on who their respective running mates are. A McCain victory,
for instance, would force Gore to name someone more interesting than a
competent, attractive politician from an important swing state.
"This is a three-dimensional chess game," says Jay Severin, a talk-show host at
local radio station WTKK and a conservative strategist. "If the Democrats are
really challenged with McCain on the Republican side, then they have to roll
Perhaps befitting a race that's confounded every expectation (Bush hasn't
sailed to the GOP nomination, and Bradley was a much stronger challenger in New
Hampshire than expected), some potential VP choices defy conventional wisdom.
The names being bandied about include Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, US Senator
John Kerry (possibly running as McCain's number two), and Jesse Ventura.
At this stage of the game, it's almost impossible to name who the picks will
be. The one thing we can be sure of is that we will be surprised.
That said, political insiders are already whispering about who will round out
each ticket. Here's what they have to say.
As different as the McCain and Bush candidacies are, they have some number-two
contenders in common. First on that list is Elizabeth Dole, who is well liked
in many corners of the GOP. Although she's a member of the establishment --
there has been a Bush or a Dole on every Republican presidential ticket since
1976 -- she has the ability to appeal to Democrats and independents. (Though
Dole's New Hampshire endorsement of Bush in January didn't help him any.)
"Liddy Dole is a perfect choice," says Jim Nuzzo, a Republican political
analyst for New England Cable News. In particular, he says, Dole would work
well with Bush. "She's always been a moderate conservative. She speaks to the
governor's softer side. He's going to have to reach out to the middle."
McCain might find her a bit dull, however. One Republican detractor quips that
Dole "is her husband with face lifts and without the honor."
Another VP candidate who should rank high on both McCain's and Bush's lists is
Tom Ridge, the governor of Pennsylvania, whose appearance on Meet the
Press last Sunday reflects his rising profile. As a blue-collar Catholic
with Slovak-Irish roots, Ridge has seen his stock increase since the Michigan
primary, where Bush took a beating as a result of the Bob Jones University
debacle. Political experts believe Bush may have done himself irreparable harm
among key Northeast and Midwest Catholic swing voters by visiting a college
whose head once denounced the pope as the "Antichrist." He could use someone
like Ridge to stem the flow. Although Pennsylvania is on the Eastern Seaboard,
Ridge himself hails from Erie, which is close to Ohio and culturally part of
the Midwest. Ridge is also a war hero, having won a Bronze Star in Vietnam.
Two other candidates that should appeal to both Bush and McCain are the
senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Both senators appeal to
the middle -- and even to the left. They're pro-choice. But Collins, who was
one of four Republicans to oppose the ban on partial-birth abortion, would
likely drive the Christian right bananas. (Although those voters won't defect
to Gore, they might stay home if she's on the GOP ticket.)
Finally, there is the GOP's dream VP: Colin Powell, the former chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff. For Bush, who could use a move back to the middle,
Powell would open the party to independents and Democrats. He could attract
some much-needed black votes and carry stature on military issues and foreign
policy. Says Nuzzo, who spent a stint in the Reagan White House with then-VP
George Bush and names Powell as his first choice: "He's on the wish list of a
lot of Republicans."
That includes McCain, who manages to mention him in almost every debate. Bush,
too, would embrace Powell if given the chance. But don't hold your breath.
Powell has repeatedly said he does not want to be a candidate for higher
office. His wife, Alma, doesn't want him to run, and he is engaged in charity
and service work in the inner city. A much more probable scenario has Powell as
secretary of state -- a post he is well suited for and has indicated he would
be willing to consider.
Many insiders are counting on McCain to think outside the box -- way outside --
when it comes to naming a vice-presidential candidate. Some in his camp are
actually talking about a fusion ticket, pairing McCain with someone from
another party. What better way to appeal to the middle than to run with a
Reform Party candidate, or even a Democrat? "The idea is to not think
regionally, but to focus on growing the electorate," says one strategist.
The fusion idea is intriguing. Imagine McCain running with Senator John Kerry
of Massachusetts. Don't laugh -- respected fundraisers on both sides of the
aisle are actually talking about this. McCain is one of Kerry's long-time pals
in the Senate. It's even been suggested that if McCain loses the Republican
nomination, he should run on the Reform Party ticket with Bill Bradley. (The
Phoenix has endorsed Bradley for president, but few political
consultants consider him a viable enough candidate at this point to engage in
serious strategizing about who his vice-presidential picks might be.)
Doug Berman, Bradley's campaign chairman, rejects this out of hand. "Bill
Bradley's a Democrat. He's fought for Democratic principles for his whole
career," Berman says.
Some in the Reform Party have asked McCain to accept the Reform nomination even
if he makes it onto the GOP ticket, running for both parties at the same time.
(This would allow the Reform Party to qualify for federal matching funds again
in 2004.) If McCain were to take up such an offer, he would have to pick a
vice-presidential nominee who would be acceptable to the Reform Party.
Establishment names would really be out of the question in that case.
Cross-endorsement and fusion tickets have been illegal in most states since the
Populist era, so that idea could be a non-starter. But the McCain team has
signaled a willingness to challenge political orthodoxy in a court of law.
And McCain might be able to recruit Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura,
who recently left the Reform Party. Ventura attracts exactly the kind of voter
McCain is going after right now. The problem with a McCain-Ventura ticket,
though, is that it might transform McCain's presidential effort from the
Straight Talk Express into the Magic Bus. It might be just too much of a nut
house for suburban voters to embrace.
There's speculation that McCain will go even further afield from mainstream
politics. Some insiders are circulating the names of business leaders as
potential VP picks: U.S. News & World Report suggested that the
campaign was considering Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon.com. (Better check the
NASDAQ before the Republican Convention.)
Vice-President Bezos may sound unlikely, but it's not nearly as improbable as a
McCain-Bush ticket. Of course, Bush is just who a victorious McCain would be
expected to go after if he were the type to follow a conventional path. But in
the past two months, McCain's proven that he's anything but conventional. And
why bother embracing the figurehead establishment candidate you've just
defeated? Those suburban independents wouldn't like seeing their votes used to
bring Candidate Frat Boy on the team. That would just be a replay of the '88
Republican ticket, with the younger Bush in the Dan Quayle role.
Besides, party reconciliation would not be McCain's top goal. Newspaper
columnist Arianna Huffington, a McCain ally, says McCain must continue to
broaden the GOP. "It would be great if we would continue his goal of reforming
the Republican Party by picking an African-American," she says. Republicans may
suggest Representative J.C. Watts, but he is not a real possibility. The
Oklahoma Republican has hurt his political prospects with his tenure in
the House leadership. He is also much more conservative than McCain.
McCain may be forced into thinking unconventionally in selecting a VP if only
because the Republican-establishment candidates -- the mainstream senators and
governors -- may not be willing to join him. Says one McCain ally on Capitol
Hill: "Given the fact that he's made fighting pork-barrel politics a project
for his 20-year career in the Senate, it makes it difficult to make and build
"It would be absurd for McCain to pick Tommy Thompson [the Wisconsin governor]
or George Voinovich [an Ohio senator]," a Republican insider notes. "It would
be absurd for him to pick a congressman."
Adds Severin: "He's not bound by the expectations of the Republican convention.
McCain will be free to make a very unusual choice based on personal preference
The smart money says that if McCain is the nominee, he'll pair with another
Republican, but one slightly out of the mainstream. A charismatic senator such
as Fred Thompson of Tennessee would be an ideal choice. Thompson, like McCain,
has focused on corruption within the political system. He has also emerged as
an outspoken critic of Gore. Likewise, McCain could turn to New Jersey's
Christine Todd Whitman, the onetime Republican star whose support of abortion
rights has brought her the wrath of the same conservative establishment that
now has it in for McCain. Their common enemy could draw them together.
Whomever McCain chooses, look for a person who would run against the current
political establishment. A ticket that pairs McCain and another nontraditional
Republican could bring grief to Gore and even serve as the catalyst for a major
political realignment. A Bush candidacy, no matter who his running mate is,
will allow Gore to stick to his current game plan.
Bush, though, has run so far to the right that if he wins the nomination, he
will need to take some risks with a running mate in order to defeat Gore in the
fall. Back when Bush was considered the certain Republican nominee, the
thinking was that he should choose a serious Washington insider with
foreign-policy experience to give him gravitas. But given McCain's performance,
it now looks as though Bush will need to reach out to independents and even
some Democrats. Bush's quandary is that he must do this without alienating the
religious right whose support he needs to become the nominee.
The first option for Bush is McCain himself. But McCain has ruled this out,
claiming he is temperamentally ill suited for the job. Besides, the two men
have developed such animosity that Bush weaseled out of calling McCain to
concede after the Michigan and Arizona primaries, as is customary. As for the
Republican establishment, it would probably just as soon see Gore elected as
McCain. (Still, Republicans have been known to put aside their differences --
Ronald Reagan picked George Bush in 1980, after Bush had attacked his
supply-side philosophy as "voodoo economics" -- so McCain could have some role
to play in a Bush administration. The senator has signaled that he would
consider a high cabinet post, such as secretary of state or defense, and he
would likely excel at such a job.)
If McCain is out, another obvious place to look, for those seeking a more
traditional candidate, is the group of Republican governors who have
been key to Bush's presidential effort. But members of that clique are being
crossed off the list, one after the other, as Bush finds himself upset by
McCain. The most recent victim: Michigan governor John Engler, who has been
gunning for a position in the White House for years. His beefy mug is now
synonymous with Republican hackdom. The next one to go down in this fashion
will probably be George Pataki, who completely mishandled the ballot situation
in New York and hasn't rallied grassroots support for Bush. And no matter what
happens in Massachusetts (where current poll numbers show McCain trouncing
Bush), don't worry that Cellucci might get chosen. He's not on that list.
Cellucci's got way too much baggage.
Still in play is the pro-life governor of Ohio, Robert Taft, whose
great-grandfather was President William Howard Taft and whose grandfather,
Robert Taft, was a senator from Ohio and a Republican presidential candidate.
Picking him would allow Bush to ally himself with one of the great families of
the Republican Party. But Taft would only accentuate Bush's negatives as a son
of privilege. (Their campaign slogan could be "Bush-Taft: we were born on
top.") If Bush wants someone from Ohio, there's always Senator George Voinovich
or Representative John Kasich. Among the other Republican governors, Tommy
Thompson of Wisconsin and Michael Leavitt of Utah are still possibilities. So
is Oklahoma's Frank Keating, who entered the national political eye for his
deft handling of the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
The problem for Bush is that all these candidates accentuate one of his biggest
negatives: the perception that the Republican establishment -- the lobbyists
and business interests -- simply anointed him to be the president, with the
local "bosses" -- the Republican governors -- charged with getting it done. As
a Republican operative said when Fred Barnes asked him to describe a
Dole-Engler ticket in 1996, "What's the picture? Two thugs." These governors
look like thugs who'd pull Bush's strings. That's not presidential.
One thing is for sure: given Bush's radical tack to the right in the primaries,
he'll need to reach back to the middle of the electorate in the general
election. This means bad news for the kinds of familiar Washington faces that
would give the ticket heft. For a while, the hottest names around were people
like former defense secretary Richard Cheney, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana,
and Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Cheney is credited as one of the
masterminds of the Gulf War, and Lugar has solid foreign-policy credentials.
But these options are less in favor now.
A real long shot for Bush would be Rudolph Giuliani, whose name is circulating
in some Republican circles. He has appeal among whites, Catholics, moderates,
and Democrats; he could solve Bush's problems to the left; and he is respected
by conservatives. Of course, Giuliani is running for New York's Senate seat,
but he hasn't formally announced yet. Observers say Giuliani just wants a place
on a national ticket, and the VP spot might appeal to him. Severin wonders,
however, whether Giuliani would devote political capital to a candidate who has
bled so much Catholic support: "The question has turned from Giuliani accepting
that invitation to, when Bush calls Giuliani, will he get the answering
Even if Giuliani (or Powell, for that matter) were available, such a home run
wouldn't be Bush's style. The thing about the Bushes is, they don't like
to be outclassed on their own ticket (see Dan Quayle). Says one political
insider: "Unlike Reagan, Carter, Clinton, the natural Bush family instinct is
to pick somebody lousy. The Bushes don't like other people to step on their
glory. They might pick some obscure person."
Just as Gore has run a conventionally Democratic campaign -- by reaching out to
the labor unions and other core Democratic constituencies -- he can be expected
to go with a conventional pick for vice-president. If Bush is the GOP nominee,
Gore's people are contemplating the old rules -- go with a leading figure from
a swing state. They aren't prepared to follow the example of Bill Clinton, who
picked another Southern Democratic moderate as his running mate. Clinton had
the confidence to know that his positives would be magnified by picking Gore,
but the Gore people seem to want none of that. Gore's been in somebody else's
shadow long enough.
Regardless of who the GOP nominee is, Bill Bradley will not be Al Gore's number
two. That shouldn't be any surprise for anyone who witnessed the level of
vitriol between the two men during the "Showtime at the Apollo" debate. The
chairman of Bradley's campaign, Douglas Berman, visited Boston February 16
and vowed that the campaign will step up its aggressiveness by talking a
lot about Gore's character and his conservative record in Congress.
Still, the Democrats cherish the memory of 1960, when John F. Kennedy offered
the vice-presidency to Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, putting aside personal
rivalry in the name of victory over the Republicans. Even if Bradley can't be
the nominee, some insiders see Gore turning to a key Bradley surrogate, such as
Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. One point in Kerrey's favor: like John McCain,
Kerrey made himself a hero in Vietnam, where he lost part of a leg and won the
Medal of Honor. But he's not a likely choice. There's a lot of simmering anger
and distrust between Gore and Kerrey, and Kerrey is just starting a new life in
New York City as the head of the New School for Social Research.
If Gore were to use Clinton's model of picking another talented Democrat to
enhance his own prestige, a good choice would be Senator John Kerry of
Massachusetts. Kerry would be an even stronger selection if Gore wound up
running against McCain (provided, of course, that McCain didn't snag him for
his own number two). Like Bob Kerrey, Kerry is a Vietnam war hero, and his
stock soared nationally when he defeated Governor William Weld in the country's
most hotly watched Senate race in 1996. Since then he has cemented a national
reputation as a reasonable, talented, highly intelligent legislator -- with
experience in economic, foreign-policy, and intelligence matters.
"John Kerry is the Democratic version of John McCain," gushes local Democratic
strategist Mary Anne Marsh, who worked as a consultant on Kerry's 1996 Senate
race. "Both have been willing to take on their parties. When John Kerry was the
first Democrat to sign on to Gramm-Rudman-Hollings [a deficit-fighting
measure], people were willing to drive him out of the party.
"Kerry's never taken PAC money," Marsh adds. "He's fought to reduce the
deficit. He's fought to change public schools. He's a terrific campaigner. I'd
be surprised if John Kerry weren't on the list."
What does Kerry have to say about serving as vice-president under Gore? "I
don't know anything about that stuff. It's way premature to get into that," he
says. "Gore's got to win the nomination. The worst thing you can do is get
distracted by that kind of stuff. I don't think it's timely at all." Moreover,
says Kerry, "you've got to see what the Republicans do. There are a lot of
Besides, as one Gore supporter in Washington quips: "Yeah, get a Massachusetts
liberal on the ticket. That will help Gore get elected." Some see Kerry as
angling for a high cabinet post, such as secretary of state or defense, in a
Gore administration. He'd be likely to land such a job, especially if the
Democrats fail to take back the Senate.
Another sensible pick is Evan Bayh, the 44-year-old junior senator from
Indiana. Bayh, a former Indiana governor who became a senator in 1998, is the
son of Birch Bayh, himself a former senator from Indiana. He's been on the
national fundraising circuit for at least a decade and is well known to
Democratic activists nationwide as a player in insider circles. In Bayh's favor
are his relative youth, his looks, and the primacy of Midwestern swing states
to winning the general election in November.
"Show me the Democrat who can win the white Catholic vote in Indiana, Illinois
-- that's the person who can help me win the election," says one leading
Democrat, who puts Bayh at the top of his list of potential vice-presidential
candidates. (John McCain's victory in Michigan showed that George W. Bush's
blunder in going to Bob Jones University has put the Catholic vote very much
into play.) "Bayh can play in the ballot both in state and beyond," the
Democrat says. "Evan Bayh has proven himself a long, long, time ago. He can
bring all the strands of the Democratic Party together -- both Bradley and
Henry Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant in New York, sees Bayh as a
"logical choice" not only for his inherent qualities, but also for political
reasons. "Geography matters," he says. "People tend to vote for people who are
more like them. Bayh helps Gore where he needs the help the most."
Not everyone agrees, of course. "I've heard that `Midwest Battleground'
thesis," says William Schneider, CNN's senior political analyst. "The key
states are Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. They don't know who Evan Bayh is. Evan
Bayh is from Indiana. There is no such thing as regional solidarity. That is
Yet another downside for Bayh: good looks + young + Indiana = Dan Quayle.
In a year when women voters may make the difference in the election, it would
be wise for Gore to pick a female candidate. One possibility is the governor of
New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen. A veteran of Democratic politics -- she headed
up Gary Hart's New Hampshire campaign -- Shaheen is viewed as having helped
Gore launch his turnaround in New Hampshire. Another point in her favor is that
Clinton insiders Mandy Grunwald and Marla Romash are on her political team. But
Shaheen faces one simple problem: not enough seasoning. (There probably will be
a White House post in store for her should Gore win.) Asked about
vice-presidential machinations, Romash declines even to address the question.
And Shaheen's press secretary, Pamela Walsh, says: "What she's said and
continues to say is that she's interested in being governor of the state of New
Hampshire. That's what she wants to do."
Then there's the woman Democratic activists tend to mention right away when
they're listing vice-presidential possibilities: Senator Dianne Feinstein of
California. But Feinstein -- along with two other Golden Staters, Governor Gray
Davis and US Representative Nancy Pelosi -- has pretty much been written off
because the Democrats should carry California without extra help from a VP
pick. "If California's on the table, we're cooked," says a leading Democrat.
"If any Democrats think we've got troubles in California, we ought to roll up
the sidewalks." Syndicated political columnist Robert Novak reported on Sunday
that the Gore team "has all but definitely written off" Feinstein as his
running mate because it feels he has California locked up. Novak wrote that the
Gore team is looking for "a vice-presidential candidate from a closely
contested state," mentioning Senator Bob Graham of Florida and Senator Richard
Durbin of Illinois. Picking either of these men would be in keeping with Gore's
conventional, establishment-friendly run. But in a year when a John McCain can
catch fire -- even if Bush is the eventual nominee -- such unimaginative picks
won't help Gore win in the other 49 states.
A name that's whispered with great excitement within the Beltway, but is not
much mentioned outside, is that of Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson.
Richardson is smart, and he has experience with foreign policy and the United
Nations; he'll become an important choice if there's an international crisis
between now and the summer. And, though you wouldn't know it from his name, he
brings another credential to the table: he is Hispanic and grew up speaking
Spanish in Mexico City.
Says CNN's Schneider: "I've always found Richardson the most interesting of the
options. He's Hispanic, but he didn't rise as a Hispanic politician. Hispanic
voters can be a very powerful force in this country. They would suddenly
mobilize like magic." But, Schneider adds, Richardson has one black mark
against him: the security at Los Alamos. Richardson is not blamed for the
scandal surrounding potential Chinese espionage at America's nuclear
laboratories, but he could be linked to them. "The Republicans could make a big
issue of security under the Clinton administration," Schneider says.
Asked about the possibility of running for vice-president, Richardson told
Chris Matthews of CNBC's Hardball: "You're really going to get me in
trouble, not just with the administration but with the vice-president, who I
think will be the president." He added: "I'm a politician -- I love politics.
I'd like to run for something again." When Richardson went on a dramatic health
and fitness program last year, losing some 30 pounds, observers took it as a
sign of his interest in higher office. The scandals at the Energy Department
are his only negative.
Also on everyone's second-tier list for Gore is Senator Joseph Lieberman of
Connecticut. The Senate's only Orthodox Jew, Lieberman has a reputation for
independence and morality. He is a leader in the New Democratic movement, has
serious foreign-policy credentials, and has added an environmental component to
his portfolio, bringing him even closer into line with Gore's thinking. He has
just written a book, In Praise of Public Life (Simon & Schuster),
demonstrating a heightened profile during an election year. Picking Lieberman
would defuse the ability of Republicans to attack Gore for standing by Clinton
so loyally during the impeachment saga: the senator took on the president
before the impeachment, saying of his actions that "such behavior is not only
inappropriate, it is immoral and harmful." If Gore ends up facing McCain, who
has vowed to "beat Al Gore like a drum" over the financing scandals, Lieberman
will be even more attractive.
Some other possibilities that would be raised for Gore by a McCain victory
include Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Senator Mary Landrieu of
Louisiana. Then there's the ultimate wild card: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the
lieutenant governor of Maryland. Townsend has developed a strong reputation in
her own right, outside of the other Kennedys. Her hard work in Maryland has won
her points as a real politician, popular with both New Democrats and soccer
moms. A Gore-Kennedy Townsend ticket would play to the center of the Democratic
establishment. It would bring the Democrats back to their roots, rekindle the
old Kennedy coalition, and attract women, all at the same time.
As good as that sounds, though, one thing has been clear since New Hampshire:
all the old rules are out.
Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com.