CLINTON KERRY
Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Kerry at a November event in Iowa. Would she join him as No. 2 on the Democratic ticket?
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 3/2/2004 10:14:08 PM ET 2004-03-03T03:14:08

Weeks ago, John Kerry put out the word to his staff that he didn’t want any speculation — even off the record — about who his running mate would be. But now that he’s the nominee, barring something cataclysmic, the guessing game has accelerated. Although the decision likely won’t be made until summer, here are some possibilities being tossed around in Democratic circles, in no particular order:

JOHN EDWARDS: The North Carolina senator is the favorite only in the minds of the voters; insiders say that he is far from a shoo-in. His best hope is for his supporters, especially fund-raisers, to band together to make it clear to Kerry that there is a price to be paid for not picking him.

Advantages: He has proven himself a thoroughbred, virtually gaffe-free candidate who would bring freshness, youth and a skillful advocate’s abilities to his new client, Kerry, and would cross examine President Bush and Vice President Cheney with a vengeance. In several states, his message of economic populism scored well with independents and moderate Republicans, a big plus in a general election.

Disadvantages:His Southern roots are not likely to help Kerry carry any Southern states, except perhaps North Carolina, which may not turn competitive. He does not have a good personal relationship with Kerry; it’s not bad, just not close. This wouldn’t normally matter except that Kerry might want someone he trusts totally. Kerry is also said to be unsure of how Edwards would stack up against Cheney on foreign policy.

DICK GEPHARDT: The Missouri congressman is a much more serious candidate inside the Kerry campaign than many outsiders realize.

Advantages:He could help carry Missouri, a key swing state that went narrowly for Bush in 2000. His longtime ties to the labor movement might take support for Democrats in union households to 70 percent, which could make the difference in critical industrial states like Ohio, which went for Bush by less than four points in 2000. He would be a likeable candidate and a credible vice president.

Disadvantages:He’s your father’s Oldsmobile and would send a musty message in a country that loves the new. With all the union support imaginable, he came in a miserable fourth in the Iowa caucuses. If the union connection didn’t help there, where will it? His appeal outside St. Louis remains a question mark.

BOB GRAHAM: The Florida senator is a possibility for three reasons: Florida, Florida, Florida.

Advantages:Polling could show by summer whether his name on the ticket adds two or three points in Florida and might actually give Kerry that pivotal state. His chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee — and opposition to the Iraq war as a distraction — gives him credibility on national security issues. His history as a governor fills out the resume with administrative experience.

Disadvantages:His abortive campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last year showed him as a lackluster candidate with little rapport with voters. A strange habit of writing down literally everything that he does in the course of a day (“3:15: Rewound the video on the VCR”) still lingers in the minds of many Democrats.

BILL RICHARDSON: The governor of New Mexico is an Hispanic-American from a state Al Gore carried by only a few hundred votes.

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Advantages:Richardson could wake the “sleeping giant” of the Hispanic vote, which might help in Arizona and among non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida. With his buoyant personality, he would joyfully rip into Bush and Cheney with the credibility that comes from a strong resume as a former congressman, U.N. ambassador and secretary of energy.

Disadvantages:He's seen in some Democratic circles as not presidential enough — a highly partisan, undisciplined and lightly informed politician who would be eaten alive by Cheney. Richardson arranged job interview appointments for Monica Lewinsky, which would revive that issue.

EVAN BAYH: The senator from Indiana is a fresh, youthful face with executive experience as a popular former governor.

Advantages:He might play well in rural Ohio, as he does next-door in rural Indiana. His moderate views could take the liberal edge off Kerry and perhaps even make Indiana competitive in a presidential election for the first time in years.

Disadvantages: Bayh is not nearly as compelling a candidate as his friend John Edwards and he voted for some Bush tax cuts, which could take the Democrats off message. Indiana is a long shot.

BOB KERREY: The former Nebraska senator and governor now heads the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Advantages:Kerry lost part of his leg as a Navy Seal in Vietnam and his presence on the ticket would magnify the advantage among vets that John Kerry has over non-veterans Bush and Cheney. This might help neutralize the Republicans’ big lead on national security. The controversy over his unit perhaps shooting unarmed Vietnamese civilians might hurt among some voters but the charges are disputed — and the debate would reinforce that this year’s Democratic ticket is not afraid of aggressive military action. Bob Kerrey is well-spoken and moderate.

Disadvantages: Besides the Kerry-Kerrey awkwardness (a “K2” bumper sticker?), he was not a strong candidate in 1992 and has been out of the political mix for a few years. He's also inclined to say things that are politically inconvenient, which could waste time. Nebraska is solidly Republican in presidential elections.

SAM NUNN: The former Georgia senator now heads the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Advantages: His heavyweight reputation and strong credentials as a military hawk could help among moderates, especially in the South. Nunn could help Kerry stay off the defensive on national security issues and would credibly argue that Bush has not done enough to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons. He also might put Georgia back into play.

Disadvantages: Nunn is a rusty and sometimes lackluster campaigner who would seem retro. He could drive some liberal Democrats to Ralph Nader, or at least give them cause for loud complaint. Georgia is solidly Republican and Nunn's appeal in other states is uncertain.

HILLARY CLINTON: The New York senator is a hit in the Senate and commands wide allegiance among Democrats.

Advantages:Large parts of the party would do anything to get her on the ticket and she might increase turnout in the Democratic base, especially among women.

Disadvantages:She brings no votes that Kerry would not otherwise have and potentially alienates moderates and independents who want to put a little distance between this election and the Clinton years. New York is already in the bag for Democrats. Clinton would have to explain breaking her promise not to run.

Other long shots: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Of course, choosing McCain could sew up the election for Kerry but McCain, a Republican, is unlikely to accept.

Jonathan Alter is a Newsweek columnist and NBC News contributing correspondent.

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