The game of choosing a vice president

McCain and Obama will face extremely difficult decisions when choosing their running mates for the presidential election.

by Andy Post

After Arizona Sen. John McCain clinched the Republican nomination for president in February, pundits, pollsters and junkies began asking the second most important question: Who will he choose as his candidate for vice president?

Traditionally, the process and consideration that goes into choosing a candidate for the office takes much more time and energy than the duties the candidate actually carries out if he or she is elected. Maeve Reston of the Los Angeles Times recently joked that the vice president has just two duties: casting tie votes in the Senate and inquiring daily about the health of the president.

For most administrations, this statement has held some truth. However, history has shown that the framers of the Constitution were not in the wrong to establish a legitimate line of succession. Both Presidents Johnson, Andrew and Lyndon, for example, had to assume the presidency when their superiors (Lincoln and Kennedy) were killed by gunfire, and Gerald Ford took the office after Watergate rocked the Nixon White House.

Deciding on a candidate for the number-two spot on a national ticket requires serious political consideration. In other words, does the guy (or lady) make the pair more or less likely to win the election? For McCain, the biggest question will be about his age. At 71, he will need to choose someone younger that the public could easily see taking over the presidency sometime over the next eight years (assuming they are victorious). Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been considered among conservative circles for the vice presidency because of his youth and energy (among other things), which could bring a critical balance to the GOP ticket.

On top of the age question, the vice presidency has traditionally been reserved for a candidate that could bring an important electoral state into the game. Florida, for example, is a tightly fought over state with a huge chunk of electoral votes. A choice from here, like Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, makes the McCain ticket stronger. Both Pawlenty and Crist would probably put their home states into the McCain column on election night, so they fulfill a basic requirement to become vice president.

In selecting a candidate, it is also critical to remember those that fought through the nomination process itself. Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee were both competitive players over the last year for the Republican seal of approval, and their position in a McCain campaign has not yet been ruled out. Strategically, a Romney vice presidential choice brings more conservative members of the party back behind McCain, while Florida’s Crist is a more moderate choice that may make some conservatives nervous. A politically balanced ticket is critical, but McCain officials will have to decide how they want their campaign to appear to the far right wing of the party.

Besides these well-known governors, other names being thrown around among insiders include South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and even moderate Independent and personal friend to McCain, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

The choice also depends on the Democratic nominee, which will probably end up being Sen. Barack Obama. It is unfortunate for Democrats that the “Bill and Hill” campaign is willing to prevent any party unity for several more weeks or months because they are so selfish. After Pennsylvania, we may have a better idea of how these two will resolve their dispute.

Because of this, talk about an Obama running-mate choice has been slim, but there has been some slight chatter. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico is a possible choice, his Clinton cabinet and administrative experience, along with a moderate appearance in a divided state, makes him a viable option. Clinton could be Obama’s vice president, but those chances are looking smaller and smaller as their contest gets dirtier and dirtier. Besides, Obama’s supporters will urge him to look over Hillary in favor of a better candidate. Virginia Sen. Jim Webb would bring some balance to Obama’s ticket, because of his military experience; while Delaware Sen. Joe Biden could provide foreign policy expertise that some say Obama needs.

The game of choosing a candidate for vice president is a calculated and political one with consequences through the country. Pulling a strong governor out of their position may lead that state to plunge into trouble, or make other regions of the nation less open to the combined ticket. My recommendation to McCain: Pawlenty would be an outstanding choice, but I’m selfish, and I like him right where he is, in St. Paul.

Andy Post welcomes comments at [email protected].