Clean, Current, and Comfortable?

With John McCain closing in on the 1,191 delegates he needs to secure the Republican nomination for president, talk among politicos across the country has turned to whom the Arizona senator should tap as his running mate.

A rocky history with his party’s conservative base recently peaked when several influential media personalities, notably Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, pledged to support New York Sen. Hillary Clinton over McCain in a last-minute attempt to draw conservatives away from the probable nominee. Consequently, some speculate that McCain’s early opposition to the Bush tax cuts, support for comprehensive immigration reform, and advocacy of campaign finance reform necessitates the selection of an all-around conservative as the running mate in order to appease and excite the Republican base.

Such an outlook favors speculation on popular governors like Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Sarah Palin of Alaska, or even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who as McCain’s last challenger for the nomination could help to unify the party. Club for Growth President Pat Toomey published an opinions editorial advocating Sanford, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, or CEO Steve Forbes as acceptable choices to their brand of economic conservatism.

Choosing the running mate by ideology, however, “might not be such a wise move at the end of the day,” warned Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who studies California and national politics. “Conservatives’ issues are with McCain, not his running mate.”
Perhaps a running mate’s personal characteristics could best help McCain. “The first consideration is to go with someone younger,” considered Morris Fiorina, a political science professor at Stanford University and Hoover fellow studying political participation and public opinion. “Especially if he’s campaigning against Obama, that contrast would be negative for McCain.” As a white male who would turn 72 years old by the November election, McCain’s vice presidential nominee could help put a younger, more exciting face on the Republican Party, perhaps benefiting someone like Palin, 42, or Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, 47.

On the other hand, Whalen emphasized, “by virtue of his experience, McCain doesn’t have any seeming weakness to balance, which makes the process so interesting to watch,” adding that McCain’s background leaves him in the best position in that regard since George H. W. Bush in 1988.

If not ideology or personal traits, other suggest that McCain should concentrate on geography, maybe enabling him to win 1 or 2 states he might not otherwise carry. Again, Pawlenty could help here: his home state, Minnesota, along with neighboring Wisconsin, part of which shares Minneapolis’s media market, were the two closest states between Bush and Kerry in 2004. At the same time, Fiorina points out that “seemingly geographic considerations don’t matter as much as they used to.”

Several pundits add to speculation that McCain might even choose his running mate from outside of current elected officeholders, like former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, or former Ohio Rep. and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman. Although each brings strong qualities to the table, Whalen said, “The challenge of choosing someone out of office is picking someone fresh and current, and clean.” Barbour, for example, like many other former elected officials, joined a lobbying firm after leaving public office at one point, potentially allowing him and other choices to be tied to lobbying and special interests.

“I suspect it will be the comfort factor” that makes up McCain’s mind, suggested Whalen, someone with whom he believes he can work, adding that McCain’s choice will be a combination of being “clean, current, and the chemistry” between the two on the ticket. In that case, possibilities might weigh more heavily toward other moderate, pro-environment Republicans, like Pawlenty, who remained a loyal supporter of McCain even when it looked like he could never win, or Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose last-minute endorsement may have put McCain over the top in a key state after which he announced he was the frontrunner.

“McCain has the luxury of time, with the Democrats in no rush to finish,” Whalen highlighted. “He has time to vet the process.” He added, “Expect all these names to be on a list, a long list.” The longer the list, the more intrigue surrounds the process, and the more press releases the campaign can send out to draw attention to their candidate.

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