In Pa., Looking Out for No. 2

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, left, and Tom Ridge are considered possible running mates for John McCain.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, left, and Tom Ridge are considered possible running mates for John McCain. (By Bradley C. Bower -- Bloomberg News)
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

YORK, Pa., Aug. 12 -- The bay door opened under a giant American flag, John McCain's dark-blue Straight Talk Express bus rolled into the exhibition hall to the inevitable (in Pennsylvania, at least) strains of "Rocky," and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee emerged with not one but two of The Mentioned.

Long shots, to be sure. One of McCain's travel companions, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), has already run for vice president -- as a Democrat. The other, former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, is a favorite son in this important battleground state but is considered suspect by much of the party's conservative base elsewhere. A front-page headline in Tuesday's Philadelphia Inquirer read "Ridge on McCain ticket? Not likely."

Still, their appearances here created a sense of deja vu to those following McCain as he prepares to make the most important decision he faces before accepting the Republican presidential nomination next month -- his choice of a running mate.

McCain, much like Democratic rival Barack Obama, has campaigned extensively with those thought to be on his shortlist, and the campaign has called upon the potential running mates often to promote the senator from Arizona on television and elsewhere.

Just Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty went on "Fox and Friends" to tout McCain's "wisdom" in his statements on the Russian invasion of Georgia. McCain's knowledge and experience would be a big benefit to voters choosing the next president, Pawlenty said.

But Pawlenty brushed aside questions about his vice presidential prospects, saying that he had gone on a fishing and innertubing trip over the weekend. He's "helping Senator McCain as a volunteer," Pawlenty said on Fox, in the first of his three television appearances scheduled Tuesday.

Another governor whose name has cropped up consistently in the mentioning, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, was booked to show the flag on Fox's "Hannity and Colmes."

It's either the world's longest audition or one of the most elaborate head-fakes in political history.

In truth, very few know who is on the really short list. The candidates are being vetted outside the campaign, and McCain aides say the decision is discussed only within a circle that includes McCain, wife Cindy and a small clutch of senior advisers.

On a plane ride last week, McCain told a few reporters he was confident there would be no unpleasant surprises about his No. 2, once he makes his choice.

"I certainly hope so," he said, adding quickly: "I'm convinced of it."

Asked whether he was satisfied with the process he put in place, he responded: "You are never satisfied. I would have liked to have selected yesterday." But, for a variety of strategic reasons, that choice is more likely to come after the Democratic convention ends on Aug. 28.

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