How to pick a running mate
By MSNBC Correspondent
updated 4/5/2004 6:43:13 PM ET 2004-04-05T22:43:13

This weekend marked the end of the cherry blossom festival here in Washington and the beginning of another beautiful rite of passage... the Vice Presidential selection process.

For political junkies, it doesn’t get much better than this:  John Kerry is starting very early and hopes to have a selection months before the political conventions.  Kerry’s vetting team has just started going through records and resumes.  And Kerry himself hopes to make an announcement within the next 8 weeks.  The strategy is fairly simple:  Kerry wants to generate some excitement this spring and get some help on the campaign trail. 

Advisers say the campaign is starting with a fairly lengthy list of possible running mates and will soon pare down the number.  Those who survive the cut will be the focus of Kerry’s vice presidential vetting team. The team includes accountants, lawyers, and doctors. 

“The whole vetting process is to turn somebody inside out so that the nominee has no surprises,” says Richard Moe, who ran Bill Clinton’s vice presidential selection team 12 years ago.

But what will the vetting team be looking for?

The steps

Candidates on the short list will be asked to provide a massive number of documents, including tax returns, financial statements, medical records, public speeches, even graduate papers and college transcripts.

Moe says, "It’s about making everything about your past known to this person that may become president."

Once the documents have been analyzed, the next phase includes personal interviews. "Every potential president wants to know if he can get along with his vice president. You want to be sure the chemistry works," says Moe.

Throughout the process, names will be floated and there will be intense lobbying from advisors and friends. In fact, some trial balloons have already been floated. Speculation is running rampant over a possible Kerry-McCain ticket, in part because that trial balloon has not been shot down. "It’s part of the process—not always, but sometimes—just to gauge public or party reaction," says Moe.

Once the vetting process is finished and the interviews have been completed, it will then be up to John Kerry. In the past, presidential nominees have made their final decision based on electoral strength, governing skills, and personal chemistry. "It’s an instinctive thing at the end," adds Moe. "Some presidents think ‘he could help me,’ or ‘I really want to spend time with him,’ and maybe, ‘Not him.’"

Who's on Kerry's list?

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who also happens to be one of the Democratic party’s top fundraisers. Hillary Clinton has been quoted as saying "I will do whatever John Kerry wants me to do…. I don’t think [serving on his ticket] is something that will be offered or accepted." Some strategists believe Mrs. Clinton and her husband would overshadow the ticket.

But Kerry advisors have reservations about other possible running mates as well. North Carolina Senator John Edwards was a hit on the campaign trail. But Edwards has only been in office for 5 years and lacks experience in foreign policy.

Former NATO commander Wesley Clark isn’t trusted after rumors that his campaign passed along nasty allegations about Kerry to reporters.

Howard Dean and Kerry do not seem to have the chemistry required, and even Dean says Kerry should pick somebody who is not from the northeast.

Florida’s Bob Graham looks good. But Graham may have a "notebook" problem. Graham has filled thousands of notebooks with constituent requests and unusual notations-like when he woke up, changed his clothes, or used the bathroom. Al Gore’s team considered it weird, and one more reason to have picked Joe Lieberman.

Former energy secretary Bill Richardson is often mentioned as a strong Kerry running mate. But Richardson is currently the governor of New Mexico and has promised not to leave early.

Congressman Dick Gephardt is a presidential campaign veteran and Kerry advisors believe Gephardt could help in Missouri and Ohio, but Gephardt isn’t exactly a political rock star. Then again, the Kerry list appears to include some politicians who usually aren't recognized outside their own state... including Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

Memorable VP moments

Who the chosen VP nominee will be, is an anticipated moment in this Battle for the White House, and could result in a memorable moment in American politics. Throughout history, VP choices have made the highlights of campaigns:

  • In 1972, George McGovern’s vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton revealed he had been hospitalized for depression and was treated with shock therapy. At first, McGovern said he supported Eagleton "one thousand percent." Then, McGovern dropped him from the ticket.
  • At the 1980 Republican convention, Ronald Reagan considered offering Gerald Ford an equal share if they won the election. Then, Reagan backed off and went with George Bush.
  • In 1984, Walter Mondale made Geraldine Ferraro the first woman on a major party ticket in U.S. history.
  • In 1992, Bill Clinton created the first modern-day vice presidential beauty pageant by forcing many of his possible running mates to visit him in Little Rock Arkansas.
  • In 1998 George H.W. Bush thought Dan Quayle, Indiana’s junior senator, would energize the ticket. He did. But Quayle’s antics shocked Republicans across the spectrum. Democrats considered Quayle such a drag on the Republican campaign, they aired attack ads that criticized George Bush for his choice.

The one thing the Kerry campaign is promising is a process that is discreet and more dignified than 4 years ago when John Kerry made Al Gore’s short list, but found out from the media that he had not been selected.

'Hardball with Chris Matthews' airs weeknights, 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.

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