This weekend the growing, dynamic city of Jacksonville, Fla., will host what is crudely called “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party.”
It’s the annual hate-fest college football game between the 20th-ranked University of Georgia Bulldogs and the defending national champion, the University of Florida Gators.
Let’s point out that Florida’s phenomenally popular governor, Charlie Crist, isn’t technically a Gator. He graduated from Florida State. But he’ll turncoat for a day on Saturday and become an honorary Gator.
It’s been my contention for months that Crist will likely be on a shortlist of potential candidates to run for vice president on the GOP ticket once the party’s presidential nominee becomes clear.
Polls show Floridians by a wide margin are put out with the Republican Party on the national level. At the same time, Gov. Crist, who has done everything from taking on insurance companies to joining Arnold Schwarzenegger in a state-by-state effort to fight global warming, is appealing to independent and even some Democratic voters.
The most recent polls show Crist’s job-approval rating at nearly 80 percent. That is virtually unheard of for any statewide elected official in America.
If Rudy Giuliani wins the nomination, the need for Crist on the ticket might not be essential. Giuliani has at least a sporting chance of winning New York State in a general election against Hillary Clinton, also of New York. And because of Florida’s high population of New York retirees, Giuliani could possibly give Clinton a run for her money in Florida, too.
But the nomination of the more conservative Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson might make the moderate Crist close to a necessity.
If the GOP loses Florida, then the presidential race is all but over, and Clinton will storm into office in an electoral avalanche.
Suppose Giuliani or even Romney ends up the nominee. In both instances they will have scorched some Southern earth by having rolled over Thompson. Either would be seen as too liberal or too squishy on social issues for some marginal red states.
If so, Georgia’s Gov. Sonny Perdue has been mentioned as a possible dark horse short-lister. He has a calm and reasoned persona on camera, plus conservative credentials that could stand up to any test. And in recent days, Perdue has gained national attention fighting for his state in retaining its critical supply of water during an awful drought.
Another Georgian, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson has been mentioned as a potential candidate, given his moderate style, conservative agenda and extreme popularity with the national media. Some believe Isakson might be the breath of fresh air the GOP so desperately needs.
But what if the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” doesn’t provide the next Republican vice presidential nominee? There are a few other names that are being floated about.
The most obvious is one of the “runners-up” in the big scramble for the Republican nomination for president. Most often mentioned is Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee, who has started to impress the GOP faithful in recent months. He could bring to the table a red/Southern state background, along with that much-needed fresh face.
But the one potential nominee least written about but most likely to be at the top of any list for consideration is Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
As I’ve noted before, a Hillary Clinton nomination almost begs a woman GOP vice presidential nominee. Not only is Hutchison sharp and politically tough, she is also right on so many issues that she could win over independent swing female voters.
For example, Hutchison had the sense to take on President Bush on his decision to veto legislation that would have expanded health care for kids.
She understands that even most conservatives now would rather see those kinds of “entitlement” expansions than the hundreds of millions of dollars of unaccounted-for bags of money that were lost in the chaotic early days of the Iraq war.
Whether it’s the almost unanimously loved Crist or the powerful and dynamic Hutchison, one thing is for sure: This time, the vice presidential choice will truly matter for the GOP. Dick Cheney taught Republicans that tough and disappointing lesson.