By Michael D. Shear and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 25, 2008
Anxious to counter the blanket media coverage that has followed Sen. Barack Obama on his overseas journey, Sen. John McCain is weighing whether to announce his running mate in the coming weeks before the spotlight shifts to China and the opening of the Olympic Games next month.
"He's in a position to make [the decision] on short notice if he wanted to," said Charles R. Black Jr., one of McCain's top political advisers.
Two top aides to the presumptive Republican nominee said the decision is likely to be announced after Obama returns from Europe on Sunday and before the Beijing Olympics begin Aug. 8. They said the campaign fears that unanticipated events coming out of China -- whether in the form of athletic accomplishments or human rights protests -- could deflect attention from the announcement if it were made during the Games.
The Olympics conclude the day before the Democratic nominating convention opens in Denver, and the GOP convention begins in Minneapolis-St. Paul just four days after the Democratic gathering ends.
Aides to the most likely candidates to join McCain on the ticket, meanwhile, offered terse "no comment" replies when asked whether they have been asked to provide documents that the campaign can use to vet backgrounds.
The list of likely contenders includes former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former U.S. budget director Rob Portman and former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge.
Asked several questions about the selection process, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom repeatedly declined to comment. Representatives for Portman, Jindal and Pawlenty also would not say whether they have provided documents to McCain aides.
Ridge, a close friend of McCain's, said in an interview that he has had no conversations with the senator or his staff about being a running mate.
"I have not. I can only be interested if John is," Ridge said Tuesday. "I'm not lobbying for it. I'm not seeking it."
Ridge, who was first elected to Congress in 1982, at the same time McCain came to Washington, bonded with the Arizona Republican as a fellow Vietnam War veteran. He has been considered as a potential running mate before, providing vetting documents during the 2000 campaign to Richard B. Cheney, who was handling the selection process for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
In the end, it was Cheney who was chosen.
This year, McCain has tapped Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., chairman of the Washington law firm O'Melveny & Meyers and a counsel to President Ronald Reagan, to oversee the selection of a running mate. Culvahouse has declined requests to comment, and McCain has been circumspect on the topic.
"I can't comment on it," McCain told reporters as he traveled through Wisconsin last week. He promised to describe his search process after it is over, declining to elaborate before then. "I don't think it's fair to the people we are considering," he said.
Asked this week about Pawlenty, McCain again declined to comment on the governor's standing in the search but quickly ticked off a list of attributes that would argue for his selection.
"He's a great, fine person," McCain said. "Reelected in one of the toughest reelection years in the history of the Republican Party. His father, I am pretty sure, drove a truck. He has been pretty successfully . . . able to work across the aisle in Minnesota with the Democrats."
Pawlenty was in Washington this week, conducting media interviews on behalf of McCain and attending what the campaign described as "meetings" at McCain's national headquarters in Arlington. Portman accompanied McCain to a fundraiser in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday.
Jindal appeared on Fox News this week to tamp down expectations, telling "Fox & Friends" that he intends to remain governor of Louisiana, a job he has held only since January.
"Let me be clear: I have said in every private and public conversation, I've got the job that I want," Jindal said. "And I'll say again on air: I'm not going to be the vice presidential nominee or vice president. I'm going to help Senator McCain get elected, as governor of Louisiana."
Aides said Romney is vacationing this week with his family on the Canadian side of Lake Huron and is scheduled to be at his home in Wolfeboro, N.H., next week.
"What I can say is that there is a lot of guessing and speculation going on," Fehrnstrom said. "Governor Romney expects to be campaigning for Senator McCain as a supporter of the ticket, not a member of the ticket."
The timing of McCain's announcement has been hotly debated within the Republican Party as he and Obama eye a calendar that is tightly packed with major national and international events.
This week, syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak wrote that McCain was poised to make an announcement before week's end, but Novak later complained that he may have been used by aides to the McCain campaign to gin up attention for their candidate. If it was a ploy, it worked, as speculation about McCain's vice presidential choice provided a rare news breakthrough for the senator during Obama's overseas trip.
Many Republicans say the traditional time frame for an announcement -- the days leading up to the GOP convention -- is not practical this year, because the Democratic convention ends so soon before the Republican gathering. It's unlikely, they said, that McCain would announce his pick the day after Obama gives his convention speech.
And several McCain aides said they oppose the idea of making a vice presidential announcement during the Olympics.
"It's not that it wouldn't get covered. But if you are looking for a calm sea and no waves . . . you don't do it during the Olympics," said one senior Republican adviser.
"We don't know when some breakthrough performance will happen," the adviser said. "All sorts of news can come. . . . What if there's some sort of human rights protest?"
washingtonpost.com staff writer Chris Cillizza contributed to this report.