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Obama, McCain Begin Running-Mate Searches

Sen. Barack Obama campaigns at the B'nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Fla. Obama emphasized that his nomination battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is not over but said, "Two weeks from now, we will know who the Democratic nominee is going to be."
Sen. Barack Obama campaigns at the B'nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Fla. Obama emphasized that his nomination battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is not over but said, "Two weeks from now, we will know who the Democratic nominee is going to be." (By Chris Carlson -- Associated Press)

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By Shailagh Murray and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 23, 2008

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The Democratic presidential front-runner, Sen. Barack Obama, took his first step toward selecting a running mate, asking a prominent supporter to begin the search process, while his likely Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, prepared to spend the weekend with three potential vice presidential picks.

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Former Fannie Mae chief executive James A. Johnson will head up Obama's vetting team, Democratic sources said. Johnson played a similar role for Democratic nominees John F. Kerry and Walter F. Mondale and joined the Obama campaign last year as a vice chairman. But Obama (Ill.) and his aides played down the move, describing it as only a preliminary exercise and stressing that they remain focused on the continuing primary battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

"I haven't hired him. He's not on retainer. I'm not paying him any money. He is a friend of mine," Obama told reporters outside the Senate, where he returned Thursday to vote for a war funding bill. "I am not commenting on vice presidential matters, because I have not won this nomination."

Aides to McCain (Ariz.), meanwhile, are already working behind the scenes to vet potential running mates, and they were equally reluctant to talk about the process. "We just don't discuss the vice presidential selection process," said McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker.

Republicans familiar with the McCain process said campaign aides are conducting extensive background checks on what one called "a long list" that stretches into double digits. Among those being considered are Govs. Charlie Crist of Florida, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana; former congressman Rob Portman (Ohio); and one of McCain's primary opponents, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Crist, Jindal and Romney have been invited to McCain's ranch in Sedona, Ariz., this weekend, although the senator's top aides insisted that the visits are not part of a formal search process.

Obama aides are guarding against any appearance of overconfidence as he and Clinton continue their campaign through the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota on June 3. "We've got a little more work to do," Obama told a group of Jewish voters at a Boca Raton synagogue. But he added: "Two weeks from now, we will know who the Democratic nominee is going to be."

Clinton's campaign kept its focus on breaking the impasse over Florida and Michigan delegates on Tuesday, viewing the seating of those delegations as her best chance to remain viable in the nomination contest. The campaign also circulated new polls to bolster their argument that Clinton remains the stronger general-election candidate against McCain.

The senator from New York has vowed to remain in the race until the unsanctioned Florida and Michigan primaries are recognized, and her supporters are pressuring Democratic Party officials for a verdict that would help Clinton narrow Obama's lead in pledged delegates.

As the primaries wind down, Obama is trying to balance his contest with Clinton and his desire to take on McCain directly and frame the general-election debate. Early next week, he will visit New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado, three swing states he hopes to win in November, before taking a final lap through South Dakota and Montana. Obama's campaign announced Thursday that he will stand in for the ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) as the commencement speaker at Wesleyan University in Connecticut on Sunday.

This week, Obama has campaigned in Florida, another key swing state. Obama will speak to a Cuban American audience Friday morning about Latin American issues, and in Boca Raton on Thursday he urged Jewish voters to ignore false rumors that circulate via e-mail about his stance on Israel and his religious background.

In Boca Raton, he was asked about his criteria for choosing a vice president. "My goal is to have the best possible government," Obama responded. "I am very practical-minded." He noted that one of his heroes, Abraham Lincoln, named political rivals to his Cabinet. "How can we get this country through this time of crisis? That has to be the approach that one takes."


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