Video: Is Jindal being vetted?

updated 7/24/2008 12:36:21 PM ET 2008-07-24T16:36:21

By now, you know the drill: Republicans hammer away at Barack Obama as a flip-flopper who lacks the experience to be commander in chief, while Democrats assail John McCain as a tired (read: old) symbol of the status quo who unforgivably supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Both are reliable lines of attack that, judging from their effectiveness in the past two election cycles, seem destined to stick around for a while.

But those familiar criticisms could well be upended by the campaign's next big twist: the unveiling of running mates. If McCain and Obama pick one of the two top prospects mentioned this week in the Hotline's "Lessons Learned" column on the veepstakes, each candidate will be forced to square those critiques with his choice of a No. 2 who poses similar drawbacks.

Perhaps the biggest questions await McCain as he considers Mitt Romney, a former rival with obvious appeal as a prolific fundraiser who speaks convincingly about how he'd address voters' economic concerns. But it was only a few months ago, during an ABC News/WMUR-TV debate in New Hampshire, that McCain, barely able to suppress a giggle, delighted in tweaking Romney as a "candidate of change" -- and not the "change" voters are clamoring for. The McCain campaign made Romney's flip-flops a central part of its assault machine in the primary, firing a withering display that ultimately derailed the former Massachusetts governor's prospects. With Romney by his side this fall, how could McCain argue that he holds peripatetic ideologues like Obama in disdain?

Another Republican atop McCain's short list these days is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Jindal is a darling of movement conservatives, a Rhodes scholar who offers a fresh face to a party that's desperately seeking one and a dose of diversity against the Democrats' historic nominee. But Rhodes scholarship aside, Jindal's resume is limited; He has served roughly 200 days as Louisiana's governor, having held a House seat for less than four years before that. Such are the hazards of being an ambitious 37-year-old; he might be a rising star, but at this point, he's still rising. McCain hopes to gain ground by characterizing Obama as too young and inexperienced to be commander in chief, and polls show voters share that concern. But wouldn't the Republican seriously undercut that argument by offering to put Jindal a heartbeat away from the Oval Office?

Video: Rating the Veeps Obama's task is no less complicated. Riding high on his short list this week is Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., a red-state moderate who served two terms as a popular governor before being elected twice by huge margins to the Senate. A Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter, Bayh could help Obama reach out to working-class white voters. But Bayh's challenge is his record on Iraq and the war on terror. He was one of the first Senate Democrats to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2002, and he did so with gusto. He continued to back the Bush administration's war strategy throughout 2004, effectively ruling him out as John Kerry's running mate. Bayh, of course, has since tacked left on the war. But Obama owes his nomination to a powerful base of antiwar activists who rejected Clinton's evolution on Iraq and are increasingly skeptical about the firmness of his own stance. For a candidate whose strategy relies heavily on linking McCain to an unpopular war, Obama would face tough questions about how a Vice President Bayh would offer a dramatically different approach.

Obama's other top prospect is Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, a respected voice on foreign policy who has been serving in the Senate since Obama was 11 years old. That's both a blessing and a curse for Obama, who attacks McCain (and attacked Clinton, Biden, et al during the primary) as a longtime fixture of the Washington establishment "that has created the mess we're in." If Obama chooses Biden as his running mate, how can he continue to malign that establishment?

The CW this year suggests that, despite all the ink and air poured into covering veepstakes, the choice of a running mate historically has little impact on the outcome of the election. I beg to differ: Voters know that Obama, perhaps the least experienced candidate for president in the past 50 years, will need to rely heavily on his No. 2. And voters know that McCain, if he wins, would be the oldest man ever inaugurated president. Both facts put extra emphasis on their choices.

It's still unclear who McCain and Obama will select. But whether it's someone from this list or not, they'll bring a whole new set of strengths -- and weaknesses -- to their tickets, which could dramatically change the presidential campaign.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.


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