The voices of unearned cynicism in Washington apparently never tire of lecturing the "unrealistic" reformers among us: "Campaign finance reform is nothing more than a goody-two-shoes issue on which nobody votes and about which nobody really cares except a few hysterical editorial writers and some sensible-shoes types from the League of Women Voters."

So perhaps these cynical souls can explain how, on the eve of the 2000 presidential voting, the Republican and Democratic front-runners, both with overwhelming establishment support in their parties, face serious and credible challenges only from two underdog opponents, both of whom have defined their candidacies by their commitment to a complete overhaul of the existing campaign finance system.

But the Republican Party does not nominate underdogs. Republicans much prefer front-runners to be their standard-bearers. In fact, in the past 10 presidential campaigns, the presidential front-runner who one year before the nominating convention led the field by 10 percentage points or more in the polls was nominated for president by the GOP nine times.

If history is a reliable guide, then front-running Texas Gov. George W. Bush will withstand Arizona Sen. John McCain's romantic, if doomed, insurgency.

This would then mean that Bush, before next summer, will practice either micro-politics or macro-politics in forming a ticket. In micro-politics, the nominee focuses on one state or one constituent group in choosing a number two. A big-state governor or senator with strong home-state appeal would be a micro choice. The macro approach recommends choosing for VP someone who could help politically beyond his or her home state and the selection of whom could send a positive message about the presidential nominee himself.

For example in asking Lyndon B. Johnson, his principal opponent for the nomination, to join his ticket in 1960, John F. Kennedy certified his self-confidence by showing that LBJ's considerable prowess constituted no threat to him.

If George W. Bush wins the nomination and dares to go macro, he could go a lot farther and do a lot worse than ask first-term U.S. Sen Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), to be his running mate.

But hasn't Hagel been one of the strongest, toughest and most loyal supporters of Bush's nemesis, John McCain? That is the essence of a macro choice.

As pollster Peter Hart explains: "To run for national leadership, you first must have a compelling personal story to tell." Hagel's is a great American story. From the Sand Hills of Nebraska, the oldest of four brothers, he became the man of the house at 16 when his father died. He could have legitimately avoided the military draft, but instead enlisted in the Army with his kid brother Tom, and both went to Vietnam, where, in seeming violation of the Sullivan Rule--named for the five Iowa brothers who perished on the same ship in the war against Japan--both Hagels ended up in the same 12-man squad in combat.

So severely burned was Sgt. Chuck Hagel when his armored personnel carrier was hit by a mine that for years afterward he could not shave with a straight razor. But that day, while still on fire, he dragged his brother to safety. He lived daily with death and danger. He earned two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars, and made it home to Nebraska.

After graduating from college and working for Ronald Reagan, he started Vanguard Cellular System, which became the second-largest independent cell-phone company in the United States. Hagel became very rich, rich enough to run the World USO and campaign successfully for the Senate in 1996. A commited internationalist from a historically isolationist state, and a successful businessman and reformer who publicly took his party to task for "demonizing" its opponents, Hagel has loudly opposed the GOP's dependency on soft money.

McCain has said--and I for one believe him--that he has absolutely no interest in being vice president. He probably would be a lousy VP and personally miserable, too. Like the Arizonan, Hagel embodies honor and duty. He is an independent and a reformer. What Chuck Hagel would offer George W. Bush, his party and the nation is McCain without McCain. Remember where you heard it first.