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George W.'s Running Mate: You Heard It Here First
By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, July 21, 2000
It’s getting close to the point when George W. Bush and Al Gore will be naming their running mates. Send your predictions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We may be just days away from the announcement of the Republican choice for vice president, so I thought this would be an opportune time to share my thoughts.
All the political calculations have been aired by every would-be prognosticator imaginable. Who helps in the key states? Who bridges the ideological divide? Who makes George W. Bush look more presidential? Whom does he get along with?
Some of it, quite frankly, has been a bit silly. The daily "who’s up, who’s down" lists. Denny Freidenrich of Laguna Beach, Calif., writes that "in some ways, it looks to me like Bush and Gore are more interested in ratings than they are in picking their vice-presidential running mates. I'm not a political genius, but when did naming the second most powerful person in the world become a soap opera like 'Survivor'? Every week one more person gets cut from the hit TV series. This may be OK for television ratings, but it isn't the way to pick a running mate." Perhaps this is the byproduct of a system that selects its presidential nominees five months before the conventions.
It appears that Bush has more talent to choose from, but in a sense, his decision is tougher than Gore’s, given the tug-of-war over abortion that has gripped the GOP. To me, the perfect choice would be Tom Ridge, the governor of Pennsylvania, for a myriad of reasons. He’s a decorated Vietnam War veteran. He comes from a crucial state, with 23 electoral votes. He has both executive and legislative experience, having served 12 years in Congress before becoming governor. He’s a good campaigner with a record of attracting Democratic votes. He has a strong anti-crime record. And besides, he and Bush are comfortable with each other (something you couldn’t say about the 1996 pairing of Bob Dole and Jack Kemp).
But while he is a Catholic, he’s a pro-choice Catholic, or at least pro-choice enough to give the anti-abortion wing of the Republican Party fits. Picking Ridge would violate the old maxim of choosing veeps, i.e., don’t do anything that will distract from your message. Yes, Ridge could bring along Pennsylvania and perhaps independents and independent-leaning Democrats. But the risk Bush creates by naming him is that it could generate a harsh reaction from what has been the reliable wing of the party. For that reason, it won’t be Ridge.
This leads to the obvious next question: who then?
If we’re eliminating Ridge over the abortion issue, then cross off George Pataki, the governor of New York, as well. He too is pro-abortion rights, and New York, even with Pataki on the ticket, would be a much tougher sell for Bush than Pennsylvania. Speaking of pro-choice Republicans, Christine Todd Whitman, the governor of New Jersey, still manages to appear on some lists. But Whitman is more than pro-choice – she is in-your-face pro-choice, going so far as to oppose a ban on so-called "partial-birth abortion," hardly a mainstream GOP position. Not that she realistically had a chance of being picked, but the recent release of a photograph of her apparently smiling while frisking an African-American man stopped by state troopers effectively ended such talk.
There has been a strong lobbying effort for Frank Keating, the governor of Oklahoma, who is an anti-abortion Catholic and would be a safe pick. Conservatives love him. He has been tested under fire, winning plaudits for his leadership role in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. And in the aftermath of the ugly South Carolina and Michigan Republican presidential primaries, with the specter of anti-Catholic bigotry charges pervading the campaign, the party might do itself some good to have a Catholic on the ticket. But Bush-Keating might be too regional, as many see Oklahoma as a suburb of Texas (though geography may not play that much of a role, as was proven in Bill Clinton’s selection of Al Gore in 1992).
Earl Williams of Elm Springs, Ark., writes of another possible downside of naming Keating: "If the high price of gasoline continues to be an issue and if Gore and the Democrats continue to blame the situation on price gouging by the oil companies, which they will, it doesn’t make much sense to have a national ticket comprised of two governors of oil-producing states, both having close ties to the oil industry."
Sen. John McCain is a fascinating prospect, and many people flatly say that given his incredible personal story and widespread popularity, such a ticket would be unbeatable. After all, if Reagan could pick Bush Senior, his primary rival, in 1980, and Kennedy could pick Johnson in 1960, what’s to prevent a Bush-McCain ticket? One obvious difference is that despite the rivalries of the two examples cited, both Bush and Johnson were team players; no one can accuse McCain of such behavior. And McCain’s "widespread popularity" doesn’t necessarily extend to Republican party leaders. Majority Leader Trent Lott would no doubt love to see McCain out of the Senate – just as New York GOP boss Thomas Platt helped engineer the naming of Gov. Theodore Roosevelt as vice president at the 1900 Republican convention simply to get the independent TR out of the Empire State. But naming McCain would be a clear case of the running mate overshadowing the head of the ticket. Oh, one other thing: Bush and McCain don’t like each other.
Many people are suggesting Sen. Chuck Hagel. The Nebraska senator, who was awarded two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, backed McCain during the primaries and has McCain-like traits of independence. He certainly is more adept at the art of compromise than his Arizona ally, and he brings solid credentials on foreign affairs, a potential weak point in Bush's candidacy. If there is one drawback in Hagel, aside from coming from a solidly-Republican though vote-poor state, it’s that he has only four years’ experience in public office. Perhaps there’s something to be said for being a fresh face, but I’m not sure Hagel is the one.
Others who find themselves on various lists include Elizabeth Dole, John Kasich, J.C. Watts, Richard Lugar, Tommy Thompson, John Engler, Christopher Cox, Connie Mack, Fred Thompson, Bill Frist, Lamar Alexander, and George Voinovich. Verdict: not their turn this year.
P.S. As you may recall, I led off this column by patting myself on the back for my astute predictions of Eagleton in ’72 and Quayle in ’88. What I didn’t tell you is that I’ve been wrong every other time.
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