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Long list before short list for vice president

Yes, yes, yes, it's much too early to start thinking about running mates. Too bad. People are doing it anyway.
Preisdential hopeful Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., right, says the question he should be asked is will he ask John McCain, R-Ariz., left, to be his running mate.
Preisdential hopeful Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., right, says the question he should be asked is will he ask John McCain, R-Ariz., left, to be his running mate.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Yes, yes, yes, it's much too early to start thinking about running mates.

Too bad. People are doing it anyway.

And even though they won't admit it, odds are that Sens. John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are giving it at least some thought.

So, too, are people who turn up their noses at the suggestion they might be a good fit, yet secretly harbor ambitions of getting the nod.

Veepstakes speculation - always an undercurrent with a presidential election afoot - intensified this past week after Mitt Romney dropped out of the race, helping to clear McCain's path to the Republican nomination.

Already, there is a "choose Mike Huckabee" movement, an "anyone-but-Huckabee" counter-boomlet, and plenty of other names in the mix, including a slew of governors, senators and others singled out for their potential attractions related to factors such as age, geography, policies, experience and personal chemistry.

And although the Democratic nominee remains a huge question mark, there is plenty of talk about a Clinton-Obama unity ticket, or an Obama-Clinton unity ticket, as the case may be.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg still is only flirting with the idea of running as an independent, but already names of potential running mates for him are dangling, Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, for one.

Joel Goldstein, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law and an expert on vice presidents, said the choice of a running mate is more complex than it used to be. With the more expansive role played by vice presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney, "you can't pick somebody simply because they're going to carry Ohio or Florida," Goldstein said. "It's going to backfire."

Given McCain's age - at 72 on Inauguration Day, he would be the oldest first-term president - there could be more focus than usual on his choice for vice president.

McCain batted away questions Friday about what he'll be looking for, saying it would be inappropriate to go there with Huckabee still in the race.

Even so, he offered some clues to his thinking. A regional strategy - picking a Southerner, for example, to help carry states in the South - doesn't work like it did in the past, he said.

McCain even laid out a job description of sorts: "The fundamental principle behind any selection of a running mate would be whether that person is fully prepared to take over and shares your values, your principles, your philosophy and your priorities," he said.

Under one theory, McCain should use his veep choice to shore up support among wary conservatives.

"That's the high-profile, easy way" to get right with conservatives, said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "If you said, 'I can't change because I'm too old to change and I'm too ornery and I don't want to be nice to you but I'll select as my running mate someone you really love,' then they'll all say 'OK, we'll put up with the ornery old guy.'"

The previous Huckabee-McCain ticket
That thinking would appear to rule out a moderate like Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion rights, and seem to point to someone like Huckabee, an ordained minister popular with social conservatives.

But economic conservatives complain that Huckabee's tenure as governor of Arkansas was marked by tax increases and liberal policies on immigration and law enforcement.

"Clearly, an economic liberal like Mike Huckabee will be unacceptable to a majority of Republicans," said Pat Toomey, president of the anti-tax Club for Growth.

Huckabee, asked Saturday about prospects for a McCain-Huckabee ticket, joked that it's already been done.

"My wife's maiden name was McCain," he explained. "Almost 34 years ago, the Huckabee-McCain ticket became one. It's worked very well all these years."

Romney, once McCain's strongest rival for the nomination, hasn't attracted much speculation as a potential running mate, principally because there appears to be no chemistry - and much acrimony - between the two men.

The ranks of Republican governors offer McCain, a four-term senator, a long list of choices that could add executive experience to the ticket. Among them: Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty, Florida's Charlie Crist, Mississippi's Haley Barbour, South Carolina's Mark Sanford. There are senators, too, on the long list that will gradually become a short list, including John Thune of South Dakota and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

One who's not likely to get the nod: former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, a former rival for the nomination who would be 66 on Inauguration Day. In combination with McCain, that adds up to a 138 years.

The tricky thing for anyone hoping to snag McCain's vice presidential slot is to audition without looking like it.

"That is almost a disqualification," said GOP consultant Rich Galen. "Surely Crist in Florida has gotten as close as anybody to overplaying his hand." Crist delivered a timely endorsement to McCain that helped him win the hotly contested Florida primary, and has campaigned around the country with McCain.

Still battling delegate for delegate, Clinton and Obama need to keep their focus right now on securing the nomination.

Others, though, have more time to ponder the ramifications of the two candidates teaming up - in either order.

Many see that as the unstoppable "dream unity ticket," says Goldstein.

Republican Galen, however, thinks it would be more of a nightmare scenario.

A President Obama, he says, wouldn't want Bill Clinton roaming around "reminding everybody of how he would have done it."

A President Clinton, he says, wouldn't want to be overshadowed by the star appeal of Obama.

If the Democratic candidates decide to look elsewhere for a running mate, one strategy is select someone who reinforces their own qualities.

Obama, for example, could pick a Washington outsider to supersize his change message, for example a governor like Arizona's Janet Napolitano or Kansas' Kathleen Sebelius.

Exciting the country
Dan Coen, a Los Angeles management consultant who runs the Web site, said Bill Clinton executed this strategy flawlessly in selecting Gore, another young Southerner. Coen, who also wrote a book about vice presidential trivia, calls this the "ticket brand" strategy.

"It's important to pick a candidate who complements you so well that it really excites the country," Coen said.

The counter strategy is to select someone with offsetting qualities, in Obama's case a senior statesman such as Joe Biden or Chris Dodd, two longtime senators who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for themselves this year. In Clinton's case, that could be Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, seen as more of a moderate than her.

Other names floated for Clinton: Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who made his own run for the Democratic nomination four years ago.

John Edwards, who had a difficult time as John Kerry's running mate in 2004, says his name is off the table.

"I'm finished with that," Edwards said last year, when he was still seeking the nomination for himself.

Democrat, Republican or something in between, anyone thinking about making a play for the vice president's job might want to ponder McCain's own thoughts on the position.

Asked last year whether he would consider being a vice presidential candidate, McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said:

"You know, I spent all those years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, kept in the dark, fed scraps - why the heck would I want to do that all over again?"