VP search: McCain and Obama step up the process

In yet another sign that both parties are getting ready to engage in the general election campaign, news emerged over the past two days that John McCain and Barack Obama were both stepping up the process of selecting a vice-president. Their decisions will be important as to how they impact the general election; but they will also determine who the front-runners are for the next nomination contests. Whoever becomes vice-president in 2009 will be favored to become his party's nominee in 2016, and the vice-president of the losing ticket will have increased his name recognition tremendously in preparation for 2012.

Such considerations of future elections are especially important for McCain's choice, as his list of potential vice-presidents includes more young sharks with presidential ambitions (starting, of course, with Mitt Romney), whereas Obama's includes more experienced figures who might not be looking to run on their own in 4 years or 8 years.

First, the Obama campaign is in the initial stages of the VP search -- but for a candidate that has still not proclaimed himself the victor of his party's primaries, that is still an advanced stage to be in. Indeed, Obama and his staff typically refuse to discuss VP plans, in fear of seeming too arrogant and alienating the Clinton camp. Obama himself said, "I am not commenting on vice presidential matters because I have not won this nomination." Yet, news emerged today that his campaign had tapped Jim Johnson to lead the vice-presidential search and organize the vetting of the potential candidates. Johnson fulfilled the same role for the campaigns of John Kerry in 2004 and Walter Mondale in 1984. Johnson describes 1984 as having made him realize the importance of vetting, as Geraldine Ferraro was dogged by questions surrounding the business dealings of her husband.

It is still too early for the Obama campaign to have asked potential VP candidates to submit vetting documents or for any sort of formal or informal meetings and interviews to have been held, but Obama's staff has started compiling files for each possible pick, assembling biographical info and articles that are in the open record. One reason that it is still too early is that the Hillary Clinton question has not been resolved: How late will she drop out, and will she remain enough of a force to

Other potential Democratic picks range from those who will bolster the ticket's experience (for instance Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Tom Dashle, Sam Nunn), those who will strengthen his appeal with registered Democrats and blue-collar voters (John Edwards, Jim Webb, Bob Casey, Ted Strickland) and his national security credentials (Wes Clark, Jim Webb, Nunn again), those who will allow him to appeal to conservatives/Republicans/red states (Chuck Hagel [!], Sebelius, Evan Bayh, Nunn again), those who would help mend fences with the Clinton camp (Ed Rendell, Strickland again, Bayh again, Clark again) and those who could help Obama win key swing states (Virginia's Kaine, Ohio's Strickland, New Mexico's Richardson). Some of these names would obviously make some in the Democratic base very uncomfortable, particularly Sam Nunn and Chuck Hagel.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign has been working on its vice-presidential search for much longer, and they are predictably at a more advantaged stage of the process. Despite the campaign's determination to keep developments fully under wraps, the New York Times reported yesterday that McCain had invited at least three potential picks to his ranch in Sedona this week-end: Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and our old friend Mitt Romney.

Crist has been near the top of McCain's VP list ever since he endorsed the Arizona Senator in the last week of the Florida primary; that endorsement is widely credited with having pushed McCain over the top. Crist could secure Florida in the GOP column, particularly if the Democratic candidate is Obama. He is also a strong campaigner and a charismatic politician, though he has two important problems: Conservative Republicans do not trust him at all (I wrote about Crist's profile in the National Review last month), and they would not be happy at having two people they mistrust on the ballot. And second, there is the quite insistent gay rumor.

Mitt Romney now appears like one of the favorites to get McCain's nod, but that was unthinkable a few months ago when Romney and McCain detested each other and made no effort to hide it. Since then, Romney has done more than almost any other Republican to help McCain's campaign, and it is no secret that Romney is eying future presidential elections. Of course, Romney has his own problems with the base.

As for Jindal, his name is coming up with increasing frequency in the past few weeks, which is somewhat surprising given his young age. Of course, youth is be an asset for Republican VP contenders this cycle given McCain's age and his desire to balance that out. First elected this November, he is the first Indian-American governor. He is also very socially conservative, which could help McCain reach out to parts of his base that might still be reluctant to support him. But a question that has to be asked is what impact Jindal's inclusion on the GOP ballot would have on those voters who would refuse to vote for Obama because he is African-American?

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  • I am a democrat and I voted for Crist in the election! he is a good man and a centrist, the kind of man the republican right hates, hell just fo the gay rumor a RUMOR they hate him, The christian right will never accept him and would be even more uncomfortalble

    By Anonymous Octavian, At 22 May, 2008 17:21  

  • Jindal is too young and inexperienced. He has been Governor for all of six months and a congressman for 3 years. If he is acceptable then you cannot attack Obama for lack of experience. At least he represents a state.

    By Anonymous Mike, At 22 May, 2008 18:55  

  • A McCain/Jindal Obama/Webb candidacy would be *hilarious*. Seriously, what would they say to each other that wouldn't apply as well to their veeps? Goodness, they might even have to resort to the issues!

    By Blogger Stephen, At 22 May, 2008 19:00  

  • I recall reading or hearing that McCain had promised at some point early in the campaign that he would only serve one term if elected. Is this still something he's saying? If he's only planning to be a one-term president, then his VP will certainly be sitting pretty!

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 22 May, 2008 20:35  

  • I think an important distinction for Obama is between who'll mend things with the Clinton camp versus who'll mend things with Clinton voters. I wonder if Hillary Clinton can't hurt Obama's chances more than McCain can. But if he picks someone who might appeal to her voters (Sebelius? Napolitano?), and picks them long before the convention, I think it would be much harder for her to hurt Obama.

    Also, given what we know of the campaigns, can't we cross some of these people off? McCain is going to run on experience. Given that, is Jindal or Thune even a remote possibility? Obama is going to be hit repeatedly for being someone who talks, but has no record. Could he name Biden when then you'd have a news cycle (later repeated) all about Biden and plagiarized speeches and the weakness of words? That'd seem a bad thing to put out there for Team Obama.

    By Blogger Scott, At 23 May, 2008 10:06  

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