Who's No. 2? Obama Keeps Everybody Guessing.

Timothy M. Kaine
Timothy M. Kaine (Alex Wong - Getty Images For Meet The Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

This is Veep Week. That, in reality, is about all that anyone outside Sen. Barack Obama's inner, inner circle knows -- that sometime before next week the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee will announce his running mate. Beyond that, the political world is in a zone of fevered speculation.

Nothing is certain, and one sign of how jittery everyone is about the timing and the choice came yesterday afternoon, when the gossipy Drudge Report posted an item that said, "Paper: Obama may announce VP in AM." That set off alarms in newsrooms across the country until Obama advisers shot it down -- although it was not clear exactly what they were shooting down, other than that the announcement would come early this morning.

As Obama completed his Hawaii vacation, there was a widespread assumption, based on nothing solid from the campaign, that he could make his announcement early this week and stage a multi-day rollout. Now, in a twist that goes against recent history, there are signs that Obama may wait to announce his choice until this weekend or just before in hopes of providing a big boost before the convention opens Monday in Denver.

In addition to giving some convention-eve energy to Obama's campaign, a late-in-the-week rollout would have another benefit in the eyes of his loyalists. It could help overshadow the other dominant story heading into Denver, which is the long-running drama over how Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and Clinton's supporters will handle themselves during the week.

An announcement late in the week suggests that the Obama campaign believes that, in an era of 24/7 coverage and increasingly shortened news cycles, sustaining interest in a vice presidential rollout has become increasingly difficult. Four years ago, the Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry, choreographed a five-day rollout of his choice of then-Sen. John Edwards. Media attention spans today are considerably shorter.

Obama could move whenever he's ready, but if he makes his announcement sooner than Friday, it would mean disrupting a schedule that is already set. He will be in Orlando on Tuesday for a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, an important event that he probably won't want to overshadow with a vice presidential pick. Then he heads to North Carolina and Virginia for a bus tour that runs into Thursday.

Obama is said to be operating with a list of five finalists, though there is no solid confirmation from his inner circle of who and how many are serious contenders.

One is believed to be Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was prepping for the job with a weekend trip overseas to Georgia, at the invitation of President Mikheil Saakashvili, to assess the situation there. His stock among those not in the know has risen sharply lately because of world events. How he is faring with the candidate is not known.

Another presumed finalist is Evan Bayh, a current senator and the former governor of Indiana, one of the red states on Obama's expand-the-map target list. Bayh is considered a default safe choice and a candidate who, in contrast to Biden, is closer generationally to a candidate who has called for turning the page on the politics of the past. But he generates some hostility among progressives and antiwar Democrats because of his centrist positions on domestic policy and his original support for the Iraq war.

The others? Timothy M. Kaine, the governor of Virginia and the first governor to endorse Obama, appears to be a finalist. It has already been reported that the Obama campaign will be holding a big event in Richmond this week, fueling speculation that Kaine is very, very high on the list. It has also been reported that the choice of former Virginia governor Mark Warner as convention keynoter has diminished Kaine's chances.

If anything has hurt Kaine, it may be that the Russian war against Georgia and the resignation of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf have highlighted the importance of a running mate with national experience and foreign policy credentials.

In his speech to the VFW yesterday morning, the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, gave a blistering critique of Obama for opposing the "surge" of troops in Iraq. Obama may conclude he needs an experienced hand and vigorous campaigner to help lead the counterattack on foreign policy between now and November.

The lone woman under consideration may be Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas. Obama is in a difficult position. He dares not have a final list of candidates that does not include a woman, given Hillary Clinton's historic campaign and the importance of the women's vote to his hopes of winning in November. Yet he risks a major backlash among Clinton supporters should he pick a woman other than Clinton.

Clinton, of course, would be the ultimate surprise. She would be a big-league pick for Obama, and her selection would be a gesture designed to unify and energize the Democratic Party. But given all the questions and concerns about the role Bill Clinton would play during the campaign and particularly in an Obama administration, her selection still appears highly unlikely.

The question of who else might be on the list of finalists has focused on three people.

One is Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who, like Biden, is a senator and former presidential candidate. The potential strike against him is the home loan he got from Countrywide Financial as part of that company's VIP program. Sources have said that Dodd met with Obama's team to review details of the mortgage transaction to convince them that the interest rate he received was within the boundaries of prevailing rates on the open market.

Another possibility is Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who accompanied Obama on his recent trip to Afghanistan and Iraq. Reed, a West Point graduate, is little known nationally but has a reputation as one of the party's most knowledgeable senators on defense and national security.

A third possibility is Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and former presidential candidate who endorsed Obama in the spring. He would give Obama a boost among Latinos and in some Western states targeted by Democrats. Plus, he has foreign policy experience. But there are few indications he is really on the list of finalists.

While Biden was away this weekend, some of his potential vice presidential rivals were auditioning on TV. Bayh appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation" and Kaine was on NBC's "Meet the Press." ABC's "This Week" hosted former senator Tom Daschle (S.D.), a top outside adviser to Obama but someone talked about as a possible White House chief of staff rather than a vice presidential prospect.

Bayh and Kaine used their appearances to dispel questions about whether they can lead the attack against McCain. Bayh was paired against GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, believed to be on McCain's shortlist, and Kaine went head to head against Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who made it clear that he does not think he will get an offer from McCain. Daschle played opposite former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, another prospective GOP pick.

Those appearances helped fuel more media speculation but the coming decision remains closely held inside the Obama campaign.

Staff writer Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company