Thursday, May 22, 2008

Who Will Win the Veepstakes?

This week, it was reported that both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama are focusing their attention on prospects for their running mates.

McCain has been up front about what he's doing. Of course, the Arizona senator can afford to be. He's already nailed down the Republican nomination and, even if it is more than three months until the GOP convention in Minneapolis, he's apparently getting serious about his choices.

Published reports say McCain is summoning vice presidential prospects to Arizona during the Memorial Day weekend for what appear to be informal -- or perhaps formal -- interviews.

It's been a busy time for McCain lately, even though he's wrapped up his nomination and hasn't had to worry about competition in the primaries for a couple of months.

In a year in which the Republican nominee's support level from religious conservatives has been less than enthusiastic, to say the least, he's rejecting the endorsement of influential fundamentalist Rev. John Hagee. Ethically, I think it's clearly the right thing to do. Politically? That's a different story. Is he alienating voters he will need in November?

And, as McCain makes his bid to become the oldest man to enter the presidency, he's limiting journalists' access to his medical records.

On this one, I think McCain needs to be candid with the American people. They know he was a POW as a young man and suffered injuries in Vietnam that were never adequately treated during his captivity. They also know he has had a couple of periods of battling cancer in his later years.

The American people are entitled to know the up-to-the-minute details of a potential president's health picture -- especially one who is, as he likes to say, "older than dirt."

Obama insists that his attention remains on securing the nomination first and that he isn't getting ahead of himself.

That's a sound "don't count your chickens" approach to what will probably be the most important and the most scrutinized decision he will make in this campaign.

In fact, I recently pointed out, with the help of a Chicago Tribune editorial, how important the No. 2 selection will be for both nominees.

According to CNN, Obama has the support of 1,965 delegates, 60 short of the number he needs to win the nomination. Clinton has the support of 1,779 delegates.

So Obama is very close -- but he hasn't quite crossed the finish line yet.

In spite of his insistence to the contrary, Obama has begun the process of narrowing down his list of prospects, according to CNN.

And former President Clinton has been "privately musing" about the possibility of Hillary Clinton being Obama's running mate, according to Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times.

According to the Times, Bill Clinton feels being on the ticket is Hillary's best option -- even if she occupies the second spot.

And even if she doesn't share his opinion on the subject -- which, apparently, she doesn't.

Personally, I feel choosing Clinton as his running mate would be a mistake for Obama. For at least three months now -- maybe closer to four -- it's been apparent that the American people would be asked to accept a lot of change in this campaign.

The race for the Democratic nomination came down to Obama and Clinton fairly early in the proceedings, which meant that Americans have known for quite awhile that either the first black or the first woman to be nominated for president would be atop the Democratic ticket.

Historically, Americans are resistant to change. Even in a year that seems, on the surface, to be predisposed to electing a Democrat, the public can be asked to accept too much change.

And that's what I think putting a black man and a woman on the same ticket would be for the majority of voters -- too much change. For the same reason, I would be against the idea of putting Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano or Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on the ticket -- even though both women have won governor's races twice in Republican states.

And both women have been mentioned frequently as vice presidential prospects.

Napolitano also happens to be the governor of McCain's home state. And, although she was re-elected with 63% of the vote in 2006, I don't believe she would be likely to sway her state to the Democrats -- not against a senator who received 77% of the vote when he was re-elected the last time (in 2004).

Personally, I believe that Eamon Javers has the right idea for Clinton. Javers has given her the blueprint for her political career in The Politico.

He counsels against playing second fiddle to Obama, and I concur.

If Ted Kennedy is forced to step down from the Senate because of his brain tumor, he will be vacating his long-held role of "lion of the Senate." That's a role, as Javers points out, that Clinton could ease into -- and excel in, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike -- with very little effort.

She already appears to have what Kennedy has had for more than four decades -- a safe seat.

Clinton was elected senator with 55% of the vote in 2000. She was re-elected in 2006 with 67% of the vote.

By the way, a little vice presidential trivia for you.

Do you know how the term "veep" originated?

Alben Barkley (who was elected vice president under Harry Truman in 1948's historic "Dewey Defeats Truman" election) was the first vice president to be called "veep."

Barkley was the oldest man ever to take the job, at the age of 71. His grandson suggested "veep" as an informal alternative to the ponderous "Mr. Vice President," and the nickname stuck.

But Barkley's successor, Richard Nixon, who had just turned 40 when he took office in 1953, refused to continue the modest tradition. He claimed the name belonged to Barkley.

Nevertheless, the nickname has remained in the language, and Barkley's memory is seldom -- if ever -- attached to the mere mention of the word.

Barkley's memory is more frequently evoked by the things that bear his real name -- like Emory University's award-winning debating society (the Barkley Forum), as well as Lake Barkley and Barkley Dam in his home state of Kentucky.

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