6.20.2008

VP watch: James Jones chooses McCain, Frank warns against Nunn

With the Democratic veepstakes seemingly more open and unpredictable than the Republican ones, it is no surprise that there is more speculation concerning Obama's vice-presidential pick. In fact, the GOP veepstakes have long been celebrated Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota as the favorite, with no real equivalent on the Democratic side. U.S. News is now hearing the same thing from a source that insists that Pawlenty is the "flavor of the week."

This is largely self-sustaining speculation: The more Pawlenty is rumored to be the favorite, the more articles and profiles will be written, the more pundits will mention his name to appear in-the-know and the more Pawlenty will appear to be heading the veepstakes. The main thing Pawlenty has going for him is that he has no obvious flaw. Mitt Romney still has to resolve the Mormon question and is not fully trusted (or liked) by John McCain, though their relationship certainly seems more friendly than it was in January. Charlie Crist has that gay rumor going against him and the conservative base would complain. Bobby Jindal is very young and, well, somewhat creepy. Remains Pawlenty, with whom McCain has a good relationship and who is unlikely to offend any major constituency. Given the rest of the field, that's already a big advantage.

The Democratic veepstakes, meanwhile, gained and lost a player within a few days: last week, the Obama campaign purposefully leaked the name of former General and NATO commander James Jones, whom no one had really thought of as a potential VP pick. But it soon became apparent that Jones was a friend of McCain's and was being mentioned by a Republican as some sort of appointee in a GOP Administration. To dispell whatever speculation might have been left, Jones made a joint appearance with McCain on Wednesday after flying on the Arizona Senator's plane. That should be enough to remove his name from the list of Obama's potential running mates.

Another potential pick that some Democrats (and myself) would love to see removed from Democratic veepstakes is former Senator Sam Nunn, whose deplorable record on gay rights is only the tip of the iceberg of what is a very conservative record of a politician positioned at the DLC-wing of the DLC (note that it would be a surprising pick coming from Obama the post-partisan). While most of the attention is devoted to Nunn's opposition to Clinton's attempts to allow gays to serve in the military, Rep. Barney Frank (one of the only gay representative in the House) pointed out in an interview with Stuart Rothenberg that Nunn had voted against the 1996 Employement Non-Discrimination Act which failed by a single vote.

Frank added that he “would have a hard time voting for the [Democratic] ticket” if it contained Nunn's name. While Frank would probably not follow through on that suggestion, it would make little sense for Obama to pick a VP who would make so many Democrats uncomfortable when he has many other more acceptable conservative Dems he can pick from if that is the direction he wants to take.

Meanwhile, Jim Webb potentially complicated his own selection as he endorsed John McCain's proposal to allow offshore drilling for oil. Barack Obama has said he is against the idea. While it is not necessary for a VP pick to agree with the head of his ticket on every topic, offshore drilling is a clear enough contrast and is likely to play a big enough role in the general election campaign (Republicans are gearing up attacks on Obama for ignoring the rise of fuel prices by refusing to lift the moratorium on drilling) that it could prove embarassing for Obama to have to deal with Webb's contrary position. Webb's statement also highlights what is the main drawback of his pick, namely the fact that he would be unpredictable on the trail with all the risks that presents for a vice-presidential candidate. A running-mate's primary role is to not mess up until November, and Webb could certainly grab a few unwanted headlines.

Most recent VP developments:

  • June 16: Jindal's exorcism problem and (more-or-less credible) Democratic denials
  • June 13: Colin Powell and Chris Dodd heading out of veepstakes
  • June 11: Strickland, Jones spark weird storylines as Obama's vetter resigns
  • June 5: Nunn backtracks on gay rights, Webb campaigns with Obama, Clinton steps back
  • All coverage for Democrats and Republicans

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