By Robert Barnes, Chris Cillizza and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 28, 2008
SEDONA, Ariz., Aug. 27 -- Republican presidential candidate John McCain has settled on a running mate, and the pair will appear together on Friday at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, according to Republican sources outside the campaign.
McCain will notify his choice on Thursday, one source said. The decision is closely held among just a handful of the senator's top advisers.
Speculation has centered on several candidates, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Choosing Lieberman or someone else who supports abortion rights, such as former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, would be risky for a candidate who has worked hard to rally conservatives to his side, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The survey indicates that 20 percent of McCain's supporters would be less likely to vote for him if he selects a running mate who supports abortion rights. In a recent interview, McCain told the conservative Weekly Standard that supporting abortion rights would not be an immediate disqualifier in his choice.
McCain, hunkered down at his ranch in Sedona, is planning to campaign with his vice presidential pick in a three-day tour of contested battlegrounds in Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania. "Special Guest TBA" is how his campaign Web site advertises the Friday event at Wright State University.
Republicans may pass Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), on their way to next week's GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn. The Democrats have scheduled a bus trip through Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania at the same time.
The senator from Arizona dropped from public view after a fundraiser Tuesday night in San Diego, not even leaving his ranch on Wednesday for his routine trip to Starbucks. He conducted phone interviews with local reporters in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The McCain camp's silence did not stop speculation, with pundits and Web sites throughout the day mentioning rarely mentioned possible candidates -- including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.), for instance, who opposes an abortion ban but votes consistently for antiabortion legislation -- and debating whether recent events helped or hurt Romney's chances.
But the most controversial candidate remains Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, who was reelected to the Senate as an independent after losing the Democratic primary and has infuriated his former party with his embrace of McCain, a longtime friend.
"You keep hearing that he really wants Lieberman," said a Republican source who talks frequently with McCain's advisers. The source added that McCain "can be stubborn."
Another senior GOP adviser said picking Lieberman would be a way to say that McCain is a "transformational politician," but it was unlikely that the benefit of that would offset the angst it would cause among party conservatives.
Republican antiabortion forces have made it known that the outrage that would be felt at next week's party convention over a Lieberman selection would dwarf any disunity on display at the Democratic gathering in Denver. And while some conservative activists love to hear Lieberman accuse Obama of being inexperienced, they have drawn the line at the notion that the party's vice presidential nominee could be someone who voted against the confirmations of conservative Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
McCain is solidly opposed to abortion rights, and nearly six in 10 of his supporters polled said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.
In the telephone survey of 1,108 registered voters taken Aug. 19 to Aug. 22, which tested six possible vice presidential candidates, most said the choice of a running mate would not change their vote for president. That was especially true of lesser-known candidates: Pawlenty (86 percent); Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (83 percent); Sen. John Thune (S.D.) (81 percent) and Ridge (80 percent).
Of the six, Romney would generate the largest following -- 20 percent say adding the former Massachusetts governor would make them more likely to support McCain. But nearly as many -- 16 percent -- said they would be less apt to vote GOP with Romney on the ticket.
Lieberman would appear to do the most damage. Overall, about one in five voters said choosing the former Democrat would make them less likely to back McCain, more than the 12 percent who would be more inclined to support the GOP nominee. And perhaps more tellingly, among those currently supporting McCain, 22 percent said they would be less apt to support the GOP nominee if he picks Lieberman. Just 9 percent of those backing Obama would be more interested in voting Republican with Lieberman as the No. 2.
Democrats are already gearing up to attack McCain's vice presidential pick, no matter whom it might be. Progressive Accountability, a left-leaning advocacy group, has prepared a dossier on five contenders: Romney, Lieberman, Pawlenty, former Ohio congressman Rob Portman and Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.).
Each of the opposition research documents uses the identical header, naming the McCain ally in question next to the phrase "McSame as Bush."
Cillizza reported from Denver, Cohen from Washington. Staff writers Michael D. Shear in Sedona and Juliet Eilperin in Washington and polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.