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COUNTDOWN

So, Candidates, Who's It Going to Be?

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By Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray
PLAYERS and PLAYERS
Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama's victory in North Carolina and near-miss in Indiana last week remove much of the doubt about whether he will win the Democratic nomination for president. With Obama the likely Democratic nominee and Sen. John McCain long his party's presumptive nominee, the search for their vice presidential picks can now begin.

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The Fix -- ever vigilant when it comes to the veepstakes -- is ready. Below, you'll find the five most logical veeps, assuming McCain and Obama are the candidates, ranked in the order of the likelihood of being chosen. No. 1 on each side is currently the likeliest to be named.

REPUBLICANS

5 Mitt Romney: A few months ago, it would have seemed crazy to include Romney on a list of potential McCain vice presidential picks. It was an open secret that the two men didn't like each another, but politics is a funny game, and Romney is charting an aggressive fundraising schedule on behalf of McCain over the coming months.

4 Charlie Crist: No single politician had more to do with McCain becoming his party's standard-bearer than the governor of Florida. Crist's endorsement of the senator from Arizona just before the Sunshine State primary put McCain over the top and cemented his grip on the nomination. But, if polling is to be believed, McCain may have an easier time there if Obama is the nominee and won't necessarily need Crist.

3 Rob Portman: Portman, who spent 12 years in Congress before several stints in the Bush White House, will be one of the finalists for the job. Why? He hails from Ohio -- perhaps the swingingest of swing states this fall -- and is widely acknowledged as an expert on economics.

2 John Thune: Thune is handsome and articulate and comes across as a moderate, despite his very clear conservative voting record. Thune is also a hero in conservative circles, thanks to his defeat of then-Sen. Tom Daschle (S.D.) in 2004. The one knock on Thune is that he hails from a state that is already well in hand for Republicans.

1 Tim Pawlenty: The Minnesota governor remains the single possibility in the Republican vice presidential field who best fits what McCain wants and needs in a VP. Pawlenty has been elected twice in a Democratic-leaning state that is almost certain to be a battleground in the fall. He is liked and respected by both conservatives and moderates, and he gets rave reviews for his political instincts. He has also known McCain for nearly three decades and, at 47, could allay some concerns about McCain's age.

DEMOCRATS

5 Sam Nunn: It's hard to argue with Nunn's place as one of the preeminent Democratic thinkers on foreign policy and defense issues. He spent more than two decades in the Senate representing Georgia and chaired the Armed Services Committee. That résumé, coupled with the fact that Nunn is a white Southerner, could well make him an appealing pick for Obama.

4 Tim Kaine: Kaine's great strengths in this process are biography and geography. A former missionary and a man who is eager to talk about his faith, Kaine could help Obama bridge the "God gap" that has emerged in recent presidential elections. He is also the highest-ranking elected official in Virginia, an emerging battleground state, and his popularity, coupled with Obama's appeal to African American voters statewide and white voters in Northern Virginia, could make the contest for the Old Dominion a barnburner.

3 Hillary Clinton: After Clinton's speech in Indianapolis last Tuesday, many within the party thought she was opening the door to the idea of sharing the ticket with Obama. Her rhetoric since then, however, particularly her comments about "white voters," may well quash the "Dream Ticket" talk before it begins in earnest. While Clinton has broad and deep support within the Democratic Party, picking her as vice president would seem to run counter to Obama's change message.

2 Ted Strickland: Although Obama may not feel compelled to name Clinton to the ticket, he is well aware of the need to offer an olive branch of sorts to the backers of the senator from New York. Strickland, the first-term governor of Ohio, may fit the bill. Not only is he an active and high-profile Clinton supporter, but he is also the popular chief executive of a state that Obama must find a way to win if he hopes to be president.

1 Kathleen Sebelius: The second-term Kansas governor earns the top spot because of her ability to further bolster Obama's strengths while not exacerbating his weaknesses. Picking Sebelius would affirm Obama's core message of change and would give Obama's run even more historic weight. Sebelius's electoral success in traditionally Republican Kansas would also echo Obama's pledge to change the electoral map in the fall.

PLAYERS

Tim Albrecht, who was Mitt Romney's press guy in Iowa, has landed at the American Future Fund -- a not-for-profit organization that has already funded a slew of ads boasting of potentially vulnerable Sen. Norm Coleman's (R-Minn.) legislative accomplishments. Albrecht will serve as national communications director for the group, which is stocked with Republican consultants and is widely rumored to be the most likely conduit for soft-money donations to be spent on some of the most hotly contested Senate races this fall.

NINE DAYS: Senate Democrats believe Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) is one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking reelection. But their preferred candidate, state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, has struggled so far and is in danger of losing the May 20 primary to feisty party activist Steve Novick.

20 DAYS: The Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets in Washington in the hope of resolving what to do with the delegates selected in invalidated primaries in Michigan and Florida. Could May 31 be Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's last day in the race if the ruling goes against her?


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