Okay, we joked last time about some goofy running mates for John McCain, as he begins what he calls his "embryonic" journey towards nominating someone for vice president. Now, who's really on his list...
But first, this brief disclaimer - I am in New Orleans right now, doing some Hurricane Katrina follow-up, and having a grand old time at Jazzfest, which the Big Easy is finally doing up in style again, almost three years after Katrina. The music has been sensational, the weather occasionally stormy, the partying severe. Stevie Wonder put on a show for the ages yesterday. Assuming I am fully recovered by tomorrow night, I am off to North Carolina to cover the primary there, so tune in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for coverage on KCBS (or listen at KCBS.com), and keep your eyes on the website for updates and blog posts.
Now back to John McCain. I must say there's too much to blog about during this campaign, and it's tough to keep up - we could talk today about Jeremiah Wright, or McCain and whether the Iraq war is all about oil - but I did promise some insight into the second slot on that GOP ticket, so here goes:
From what I've been able to gather, McCain has about 20 people under consideration, and they fall roughly into three groups: Vanquished Opponents, Esteemed Colleagues, and Longshots.
VANQUISHED OPPONENTS: These are the people McCain bested for the Republican nomination. They are:
MITT ROMNEY - He's campaigning hard for the job. Romney plans to run for president again, in 2012 if the Democrats win this time or if McCain wins and serves just one term, or in 2016 if McCain is a two-termer. Romney is back out on the stump, raising money for McCain and lobbying his delegates to back the Arizona Senator instead. He went to Nevada last week on McCain's behalf. He would love to be McCain's running mate, and would probably satisfy many of the conservatives who want one of their own on the Republican ticket.
MIKE HUCKABEE - An even better choice as far as some conservatives are concerned, Huckabee is anathema to others who don't like his tax and immigration policies. He brings a nice Southern balance, is a strong, folksy campaigner, and certainly meets the experience bar, which is critical to McCain, given his age. But there are a lot of negatives there, too, and the Democrats would pounce on Huckabee as too extreme to be president if anything were to happen to McCain.
RUDY GIULIANI - It's hard to imagine McCain choosing Giuliani. He brings more baggage than he's worth and the conservatives would howl. But sources tell me he's on McCain's list anyway, even though he's more likely to be considered for Homeland Security Secretary.
That brings us to the ESTEEMED COLLEAGUES:
McCain's Veep is most likely to come from this group. It includes Senators, Governors and one former member of the House:
JON HUNTSMAN, JR. - The governor of Utah, Huntsman was a strong early supporter of McCain, and has campaigned for him in the Intermountain West. He's only 48 and he's a Mormon. He has strong conservative and business credentials but critics would question whether he's really ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
CHARLIE CRIST - Florida's Governor came late to the McCain bandwagon but has raised his visibility and helped McCain hold off Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani in the Sunshine State. He'll be 52 this summer, a nice balance to McCain's age, but conservatives think he's too moderate. He's got a strong government resume, and is likely to run for president himself someday, whether McCain picks him this time or not.
SARAH PALIN - The GOP would love a McCain-Palin ticket, to counter whichever history-making nominee the Democrats select. She's the up-and-coming, 44-year-old Governor of Alaska. She's bright, personable and popular. The problem: she's only 44 and she's from Alaska, for heaven's sake. That doesn't really help McCain geographically, and two years as governor and a term before that as Mayor of Wasilla don't exactly make her Oval Office-ready. Plus, the cost of all that jet fuel taking her back and forth from Juneau would bankrupt the campaign.
KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON - Near the top of many pundits' lists, simply because she's a woman, from the South, with significant experience. But at 65, Hutchison may be too old. She benefits from the Republicans' lack of strong female contenders , though, and after 15 years in the Senate, McCain can make the case that she's ready to be his backup.
ROB PORTMAN - Who? Don't count this guy out. Rob Portman represented Ohio in Congress for 12 years, then filled two key posts for President Bush: director of the Office of Management and Budget, and U.S. Trade Representative. That gives him strong skills in two key areas. Despite all that experience, he's only 52 and has a bright political future. He's a rock-ribbed Cincinnati conservative and is tight with the Bush family. Nominating him for vice president would please the right wing and help McCain carry the battleground state of Ohio.
MEL MARTINEZ - Martinez could be very near the top of McCain's list. He is 61, Cuban-born, conservative, served in President Bush's first Cabinet, and is the popular junior Senator from Florida. He's got three very strong pluses in his favor: he's more conservative than McCain, is Latino, and has the right blend of relative youth and experience. Nominating Martinez would let the GOP make some history of their own, with the first Hispanic national nominee - unless the Democrats nominate Bill Richardson for VP a week earlier.
BILL FRIST - The former Senate Majority Leader from Tennessee flirted with a run for president this year but decided against it. He's as conservative as they come, and would certainly satisfy the party's right wing. He's experienced, young enough at 56, but may be pondering a run for Governor in 2010 and a future presidential bid of his own. He alienated some of his own party near the end of his Senate term and might not mesh with McCain.
MITCH MCCONNELL - He's a little old at 66, but well-regarded within the party, having risen to become Senate Minority Leader. The voters don't know him, but running mates are often plucked from relative obscurity, so that doesn't matter much. Kentucky's probably safe for the Republicans, but McConnell would help McCain appeal to the deeper South.
KIT BOND - Bond seems too old to me, at 69, but he's from the swing state of Missouri, and as a U.S. Senator and former Governor, has the right mix of experience to succeed McCain, if necessary. It's more likely McCain will choose someone in his (or her) mid to late 50s - old enough to be ready, young enough to run on their own after McCain is done.
JIM DEMINT - Both of South Carolina's Senators could be in the running. DeMint will be 57 this fall, served in the House before getting elected to the Senate, and is to the right of McCain - but also has a history of making some controversial statements that will be resurrected if he's the vice presidential nominee.
LINDSEY GRAHAM - South Carolina Senator Graham is powerful and high-profile, has military experience and is from a key Southern state. He'll be 53 this summer. You can bet he's working hard behind the scenes to get on the ticket with McCain.
TIM PAWLENTY - The governor of Minnesota, which has become a swing state, Pawlenty is only 47 but was an early and enthusiastic supporter of McCain's presidential candidacy. I met him when we were traveling with Governor Schwarzenegger in China - he seemed awfully young to me (gee, he's the same age as I am!) but was friendly and personable. Choosing him would be a reach - he's white, Catholic, and won't help McCain in the South.
HALEY BARBOUR - Really? Haley Barbour? It's hard to imagine McCain nominating him, but Barbour has transitioned well from partisan boss of the Republican Party to Governor of Mississippi. He gained widespread praise for his response to Hurricane Katrina - especially contrasted with what happened in neighboring Louisiana - and at 60, he's the right age. He's very conservative, and very popular across the Deep South.
MARK SANFORD - He's only 48, but the Governor of South Carolina checks off a few boxes for McCain. He's from the South, he's a solid conservative, but he's also thoughtful, popular and occasionally a bit of a maverick, like McCain. He didn't endorse McCain until late in the game, but that probably doesn't matter. He's considered a rising star in the party.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE - Forget it. Condi's coming home to Stanford, to teach and resume her role as an occasional guest expert on KCBS. Who would give that up to run for vice president? Yes, she's a black woman, but she's too closely tied to the Iraq war, and has never held elective office. Too many negatives for McCain to take that risk.
COLIN POWELL - Nope. If Powell and his wife ever decide they're ready for a run, it will be for president, not McCain's second slot.
MIKE BLOOMBERG - I don't see it. Again, why would someone like Bloomberg settle for the vice presidency? He would alienate the conservatives, and while a short Jewish billionaire from New York would make history, he wouldn't help McCain win the election.
JOE LIEBERMAN - An intriguing pick, Lieberman could help McCain form a "unity" ticket, though he's left the Democratic Party and become an independent. But voters might see Al Gore's vice presidential pick as a retread. It's more likely that Lieberman would be Secretary of Defense in a McCain administration.
ELIZABETH DOLE - It's too late for Dole. If she weren't a woman, she wouldn't even be mentioned. She's got the name and the pedigree, but she'll be 72 this summer - she's a month older than McCain!
So there you have it. Are you still with me? This post was necessarily long, and though I intended it to be fairly comprehensive, there could still be a dark horse out there that's not on this list. Look for McCain to name his running mate sooner rather than later; he won't wait until the convention, in late August. I expect him to make the decision in mid-June, after all the primaries are over, so that his choice can get out there and start attacking the presumptive Democratic nominee, who should be known by then.
See you next week from North Carolina.