McCain-Who?: The VP Question

“We have not even begun to discuss a running mate,” John McCain adviser Charles Black told the New York Times recently, shortly after the Arizona senator became the de facto Republican nominee for President. Although that’s a little hard to believe, since McCain is already sounding as though this is the general election, it does seem a rather safe bet that the nominee-in-waiting will take his time, since the national convention is nearly six months away.

Perhaps more than in most past elections, the Republican vice presidential nomination is especially important this year. With polls showing a tight race between McCain and either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, a GOP running mate who helps with the issues of age, geographical balance and political philosophy could be critical to Republican electability –much as John F. Kennedy’s choice of Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas was probably pivotal to the narrow Democratic presidential victory in 1960. There have been some seemingly outlandish suggestions, even for a self-styled “maverick,” such as McCain’s turning to Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut or Republican-turned-Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York. Others have suggested McCain follow in the path of Kennedy and Ronald Reagan and turn to a former rival for nomination such as Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee (both very unlikely).

Still others say that the route McCain must take is the dramatic one: Put a minority member or a woman a heartbeat away from the presidency. 

Given the strained relations between McCain and many grass-roots conservatives, the Arizonan’s choice of a running mate may be his first clear signal that he is interested in energizing the GOP base and is serious about reaching out to those he has disagreed with on so many important issues over the last several years. 

Here, then is a look at some of the possible candidates for the second spot on the Republican ticket in ’08:

— Chris Cox
The chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has gilt-edged conservative credentials, including his stint in the Reagan White House and as U.S. Representative from California (1988-2005). Brainy (a Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School graduate), articulate and hard working, Cox would close the gap between McCain and conservatives and balance the ticket in terms of age (Cox is 55). His problem is that, like several other prospects, he is not very well known outside political and business circles. 

— Charlie Crist
Florida’s governor sports high popularity ratings and his endorsement was considered a major factor in McCain’s crucial primary win in the state. His presence on a national GOP ticket would probably go a long way toward putting Florida’s 27 electoral votes in the McCain column. But his Schwarzenegger-like identification with global warming and other issues makes conservatives in and out of Florida distrust Crist. 

— Kay Bailey Hutchison
The popular Texas senator has a long résumé, having served as state legislator and state treasurer before winning her Senate seat in a 1993 special election. Working in her favor is, of course, gender. Of all the Republican women in the Senate, the Texan is the most conservative (lifetime ACU rating 91%). Working against her is age (64). 

— Sarah Palin
At 44, the governor of Alaska, a former TV reporter, is bright, vivacious and conservative across the board. She championed tax cuts as a mayor and has become popular for advocating free-market initiatives to attract new business to Alaska. But as a former mayor of Wasilla and governor for less than two years, Palin has among the slimmest of résumés of vice presidential possibles. 

— Tim Pawlenty
Twice elected governor of Minnesota, where the GOP barely missed winning the 10 electoral votes in ’04, former state legislator Pawlenty is a strong conservative on social issues and has managed to get state spending under control (although conservatives have been critical of the 47-year-old Pawlenty for agreeing to a cigarette tax increase and for calling on President Bush to sign the Democrat-increased State Children’s Health Insurance Program). 

— Condoleezza Rice
Obviously the best-known member of the Bush Cabinet, the magnetic former Stanford professor would make history because of gender, race and a moving personal life story. Working against the secretary of State is 1) she has never held elective office and 2) she has made clear she does not want to run for office. 

Paul Ryan
The 38-year-old Wisconsin congressman is a favorite of younger conservatives in the House and has won the respect of fellow conservatives nationwide as ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. Ryan’s main drawback, of course, is that so few outside his home state and Congress know him. 

— Mark Sanford
The two-term South Carolina governor and former congressman has an attractive family and superb conservative credentials. But Republicans in the state grumble that Sanford picks too many fights, even with fellow conservative GOPers.

— Michael Steele
Like Rice, the former Maryland lieutenant governor and losing U.S. Senate nominee would make history as a vice presidential candidate. Articulate and easy-going, Steele nonetheless badly lost his last bid for a statewide office.