John McCain's campaign has asked Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor for personal documents as the Republican presidential candidate steps up his search for a running mate, The Associated Press has learned.
Cantor, 45, the chief deputy minority whip in the House, has been mentioned among several Republicans as a possible running mate for McCain. A Republican familiar with the conversations between Cantor and the McCain campaign said Cantor has been asked to turn over documents, but did not know specifically what records were sought.
The individual spoke on the condition of anonymity because neither the McCain campaign nor Cantor's office wishes to discuss the running mate selection process.
Cantor through a spokesman declined to comment. McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said the campaign would have "no comment on anything related to the vice presidential issue."
Making rounds on cable news
With just weeks till the national conventions, McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama have knuckled down in their search for vice presidential candidates. They have been regularly huddling behind closed doors with a small circle of advisers to examine the backgrounds and records — and weigh the political implications — of at least a handful of prospects.
Cantor has been a visible McCain surrogate for weeks, appearing frequently on cable news outlets chiefly to promote McCain's positions on domestic and economic issues. He has been a forceful critic of Democrat Barack Obama's resistance to lifting the federal ban on oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Cantor has strong support among the party's conservatives, perhaps comforting a segment of the GOP base that has been reluctant to embrace McCain, who has often been at odds with members of his own party on several issues, including a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, federal funds for embryonic stem cell research and campaign finance reform.
Since his four terms in the Virginia House of Delegates starting in the early 1990s, Cantor has been part of the anti-tax wing of Virginia's Republican Party. His longtime advocacy for business and corporate interests in the General Assembly earned Cantor the derisive nickname "Overdog" from Democrats in Richmond.
Cantor is Jewish and is among Israel's most avid congressional supporters. His addition to the ticket could help the GOP win over Jewish votes this year. If McCain wins, Cantor would become the first Jewish vice president.
Cantor also would provide youth to the ticket as McCain turns 72 later this month.
Virginia in the spotlight
Cantor could provide McCain with an important asset in Virginia, a state that last backed a Democrat for president in 1964 but which both parties are now targeting as a battleground.
That both McCain and Obama are considering Virginians as running mates underscores the importance of a conservative southern state in the back yard of Washington where Democrats have found success since 2001.
While the state's 13 electoral votes don't place Virginia among electoral giants such as California, Texas or Pennsylvania, picking off a state in the solidly Republican South could tip a close race to the Democrats.
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is personally close and ideologically in sync with Obama and has been mentioned as a possible running mate along with Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Joe Biden of Delaware and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Among others believed to be getting close looks from McCain: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Ohio Rep. Rob Portman for McCain.
Cantor's drawback is his obscurity despite his leadership position in the House.
He won his seat in Congress in 2000 from one of Virginia's most conservative House districts. No Democratic challenger has come close to defeating him since, including actor Ben Jones, who played the Cooter character on the "Dukes of Hazzard" television comedy series. He faces a longshot challenge this year from Anita Hartke, the daughter of former Democratic Sen. Vance Hartke of Indiana.