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Post Roundtable: The GOP Veepstakes

_____ RealAudio _____

Part One: Bush's Short List
Part Two: Hagel, Keating and Ridge
Part Three: Long Shots
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Monday, July 17, 2000

With two weeks to go before Republicans begin their national convention in Philadelphia, Texas Gov. George W. Bush is narrowing his choices of possible running mates. Political reporter Charles Babington moderated a recorded conversation about Bush's upcoming decision with Washington Post colleagues Bob Woodward and David Von Drehle.

Part One: Bush's Short List

BABINGTON: Welcome to Reporters Roundtable, I'm Chuck Babington. With me are my Washington Post colleagues, Bob Woodward and David Von Drehle. Our topic is George W. Bush's pending choice of a running mate. Bob Woodward, let's start with you. Who seems to be the top three or four contenders?

WOODWARD: I think the first thing to say is that no one is absolutely sure because it's a closed system where Bush and Dick Cheney, the former congressman and secretary of defense, are really making the decision in private. There are lots of names floated around. The governor of New York, Pataki; governor of Pennsylvania Ridge. Certainly Governor Keating of Oklahoma, Chuck Hagel the senator from Nebraska. But I'd say the unknown surprise candidates also where we could sit here for hours and not come up with the full list, and I also would not rule out Bush turning to the chairman of his selection committee -- namely, Dick Cheney -- and saying, "I'd like you to do it."

BABINGTON: David Von Drehle?

VON DREHLE: I think Bob's exactly right. He's come up with a good list there, but Bush has been very quiet about this. Very discreet. A lot of the names that you hear bandied about, you know, may be just inventions of people with a lot of time on their hands in a slow season.

BABINGTON: David, what does Governor Bush seem to want and not want in a running mate?

VON DREHLE: Well, what he's told us is that he wants two things. He wants a person who is loyal to him and supportive of him that he could get along with well, and first of all that he wants someone who would make a good president if he had to step in for whatever reason -- he or she.

BABINGTON: Bob Woodward?

WOODWARD: Well, I think you have to look to Cheney in the sense of who might Cheney screen in or put at the top of the list. And it likely is going to be somebody who has had not just experience in elective politics or kind of one job -- somebody who's been a senator 20 years -- but it would be somebody like Cheney who, as you may recall, was President Ford's chief of staff in the White House at a very young age. Then Cheney was elected to Congress from Wyoming, then became Secretary of Defense for President Bush, and then now is a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

So I think the central ingredient is going to be somebody who's had many incarnations, been successful in a number of areas and somebody who's not going to pose any doubt or question marks. George W. Bush does not want to pick the equivalent of Dan Quayle, somebody where people are going to say, "Dan who?" or to suggest that we're getting a team from the Republicans that is thin on experience.

VON DREHLE: Well, I think it sounds like Bob's narrowed that down to about one person -- Dick Cheney.

BABINGTON: Bob's money is on Cheney.

WOODWARD: No, it's not. But 50 cents of my dollar bet is.

Part Two: Hagel, Keating and Ridge

BABINGTON: Bob, two of the names that we hear fairly often are Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel. What are their main strengths and weaknesses?

WOODWARD: Well, I think Keating has got this advantage: To a certain extent he's like the Louis Freeh of the Republican Party -- Louis Freeh being the FBI director. Keating himself was an FBI agent, had been U.S. Attorney, the chief prosecutor for the federal government in Oklahoma, and actually was at one point nominated to become a federal judge. He did not become a judge, but that is the exact career track that Louis Freeh took.

I think Bush is looking for ways to kind of remind people of the Clinton-Gore scandals and problems and just putting Keating up there would send that signal.


VON DREHLE: He's right. Keating's also very safe, conservative, Catholic. He checks off a lot of the boxes.

Hagel is a little more dangerous or adventuresome choice. He is a first-term senator from Nebraska, a Vietnam veteran and didn't even support Bush in the primaries. He was a McCain guy. And, in a way, I think his name has gotten the buzz that it has because he sort of is McCain-like, his way of appealing to the people who supported McCain, who are, you know, not necessarily entirely on board with the Republican Party. But he's not perhaps as dangerous as McCain. He's also gettable, which McCain probably is not.

WOODWARD: But David, I wonder if you're going to pick Chuck Hagel again who has very little government experience, then you would have Bush and Hagel with a total of less than 15 years in elective politics. Why not pick McCain?

VON DREHLE: I agree with you, Bob. I've been surprised by the amount of buzz there is around Hagel. I would be very surprised if he's the pick.

BABINGTON: Well, Keating's name probably gets mentioned more often and yet some people think Keating is a bit of a publicity hound. Remember, he was on TV just all the time, it seemed, after the Oklahoma City bombing. David, is that likely a problem with Bush?

VON DREHLE: I don't think so. You know, presidents, or would-be presidents, tend not to want a vice president who would overshadow them, but I don't think that's an issue with Keating. Look, he was the governor of Oklahoma, he lives in Oklahoma City, that's where his offices are. I don't think people felt like he was across the line when that huge and awful event happened there.

WOODWARD: Yes, I agree. In fact, I think if you look -- he was on television a lot, but it was appropriate and it was in the circumstances that you would expect the governor to appear. I don't think there was anything cloying or unnatural about that.

BABINGTON: One last question. Bob Woodward, Tom Ridge, the governor of Pennsylvania's name was mentioned a lot early on. We don't seem to hear it quite as much. Has he faded from the top ranks?

WOODWARD: David rightly talks about this buzz, but I think it is kind of people stinging each other who don't know anything. This really, truly and intentionally is a closed system. I think the main goal that Bush has here, after he announces his vice presidential nominee, people have to say that is somebody of substance, somebody automatically you would think of or consider a potential president, somebody who's going to bring a certain steadiness, a sense of experience to the ticket. And that that's got to happen. And as you look out over the horizon, you look at the history of people, candidates picking their vice president, you can really draw a very large list in the Republican Party of dozens and dozens of people who might be candidates.

I mean, without belaboring this, look at Jim Baker, who worked for president Bush in all sorts of roles -- treasury secretary, campaign manager, Reagan's White House chief of staff and so forth. Now there's bad blood between George W. and Jim Baker so that isn't going to happen, but there is somebody in the bowels of the Republican Party who would make a credible president.

VON DREHLE: If you look, Chuck, at the second qualification the governor has listed, namely somebody he can get along with, Tom Ridge scores very high on that. They are close friends, very comfortable with each other. I don't think we should write him off at all.

Part Three: Long Shots

BABINGTON: Bob Woodward, what are the chances that the governor will make a surprise pick, someone whose name is rarely mentioned, and what are the pros and cons of such a decision?

WOODWARD: Again, I think it's important that he meet that goal of finding somebody who has a lot of experience, who immediately when the name is dropped people will say, "Yes, that's a plausible president of the United States." And there is a big list there. And I think they would love to come up with a surprise and, you know, there are all kinds of Republicans around the country who are retired who might conceivably be available.

BABINGTON: David Von Drehle?

VON DREHLE: Well, to go in a different direction from Bob's experience argument, I'll throw out a name. I don't think it's likely, but Chris Cox of California, a congressman and probably the most appealing and promising of the senior Republicans.

You know, if you go back to World War II, it's only happened once that a Republican team has been elected to the White House without a Californian on the ticket. So maybe they make that play again. If so, that would move Cox, I think, to the top of the list.

BABINGTON: But isn't Bush in general running pretty much a textbook campaign? Assume he's ahead in the polls. Would it make sense for him to rock the boat with a surprising or unorthodox pick?

VON DREHLE: Only if it's a great pick.

WOODWARD: That's right. And do you think, David, that Chris Cox has enough? I mean, he's --

VON DREHLE: I'll give it a --

WOODWARD: -- got a reputation but there would automatically be this question, you know. I don't think he registers high enough on the Richter scale to meet the standard of weightiness which Bush needs.

VON DREHLE: He does, you're right.

BABINGTON: Bob Woodward, you talked earlier about Richard Cheney. But he is obviously older, a good bit older than the governor. What about the youth or age factor? Does it matter roughly what the age of the running mate is?

WOODWARD: No, I don't think so and, of course, age means experience in this case, and Cheney has said he's not available. But you could develop a scenario where all the other people don't want it or something pops up in the background inquiry that raises question marks, and they'd turn to Cheney and say, "You need to do this." And having been a Cheney watcher for a number of years, particularly when he was in the Defense Department, the trait that people most love in Cheney, if you were the boss, is his loyalty. He knows exactly how never to step on the boss's toes and to stay in the background when it is necessary. So there is somebody who's got all of the training. During the Gulf War, Dick Cheney never said anything without mentioning President Bush decided, President Bush did the following, President Bush thought the following. So he's a very loyal person politically and personally and I think that's something that appeals to George W. Bush.

VON DREHLE: How about if he demonstrates his bipartisanship by reaching back into the Clinton administration for Bill Cohen who is, after all, a Republican, a guy who shows that he can work with both parties, which is something I think the American voters want? He's also got a lot of experience.

WOODWARD: I mean, it's an interesting idea, but then that in a sense marries Bush with the Clinton administration and I think he's very interested in a public divorce. I think that he would not want to bring somebody who's served Clinton well and loyally, even as secretary of defense, across the river here in Washington, as it's said.

I don't think that would happen but, you know, they have all of these lists and they've known people and they've talked about people, and I would say there's as a good a chance as not that there will be somebody who's not making the buzz.

BABINGTON: Bob, David, thanks very much.

Today's Roundtable was recorded and produced by washingtonpost.com's Chet Rhodes and transcribed by Olwen Price of The Washington Post.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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