McCain’s Vice Presidential Candidates
John McCain is vetting potential vice presidential candidates over the holiday weekend, Adam Nagourney reports for the NYT.
Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a one-time rival for the Republican nomination, have all accepted invitations to visit with Mr. McCain at his ranch in Sedona, these Republicans said.
This is not going to sit well with Chris Matthews. It should be noted, too, that Black says this visit is purely social, asserting “It has nothing whatsoever to do with the vice presidential selection process,” and observing that it would be “pretty awkward” to have an open competition with the guys all in one room.
In addition to Mr. Crist, Mr. Jindal and Mr. Romney, Mr. McCain’s guest list includes some of top his political counselors, among them Charlie Black, a senior strategist, and Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, his frequent traveling companion and probably his closest colleague in the Senate.
If the gathering does not involve actual interviews, as some of Mr. McCain’s associates said Wednesday, it will provide Mr. McCain with a chance to know some potential running mates in a social context. Mr. McCain is known as a social and gregarious candidate and senator, and his associates said personal chemistry would be a key consideration in his choice.
The candidates all have their strengths.
As governor of Florida, Mr. Crist, 51, would bring a number of obvious assets to a Republican ticket, beginning with his popularity in a state that is almost always an electoral battleground — and where Mr. Obama appears to be struggling. His relative youth could also be an asset for Mr. McCain. In Florida, Mr. Crist has long been known for his affability and a campaign skills. Instantly recognizable because of his perpetual tan and striking white hair, Mr. Crist, who served as Florida’s attorney general before being elected governor in 2006, has also acquired a reputation as something of a hard-liner on law and order issues. He supports the death penalty, largely opposes restrictions on the rights of gun owners, early on earned the nickname “Chain Gang Charlie” because he favored allowing convicts to be used in road work, and has described himself as a “pro-life and pro-family” candidate.
Mr. Romney, a former chief executive who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination this year, has made no secret of his desire to join Mr. McCain’s presidential ticket. As a vice president, Mr. Romney’s business background — including running the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics — could address concerns about Mr. McCain’s ability to manage the struggling economy. Mr. Romney has also proven himself to be a prolific fund-raiser, although he spent enormous sums of money during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and still could not beat Mr. McCain. And geographically, he brings little to the ticket, since he is unlikely to put Massachusetts in play for the Republicans.
Mr. Jindal, who was born in Baton Rouge, La., to a family that had just arrived there from the Punjab area of India, took office as Louisiana’s governor in January after serving three years in the House of Representatives. Mr. Jindal, who was born a Hindu but became a Roman Catholic as a teenager, campaigned for governor as a social conservative, opposing human embryonic stem cell research and abortion in any form and favoring teaching “intelligent design” in schools as an alternative to evolution. But Mr. Jindal also has a reputation as a policy wonk, like the Clintons, with a specialty in health care issues. After graduating in 1991 from Brown University, where he majored in biology and public policy, and attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Mr. Jindal worked for the management consulting firm McKinsey and Company and was executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. He later served as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and in the Bush administration as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for planning and evaluation.
Jindal is the most exciting choice among the three but all would sit well with the base without being viewed as wild-eyed and dangerous by moderates. On the other hand, McCain plans to make this race about national security and none of these men (or Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Rob Portman, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget, also listed in the piece as possibilities) have any serious credentials in that arena.
For what it’s worth, former Newt Gingrich spokesman and Washington Times editorial director Tony Blankley is lukewarm on all three of these choices and thinks McCain should find someone who’s very experienced on the national scene in order to “play to his strength.” His suggestion? “[M]aybe go with someone like a Governor Ridge or even a Lieberman, rather than trying to do a sort of a classic carry-a-state deal.”
Phillip Klein agrees, arguing that Jindal is too young (he’s 36!) and that “If Romney had truly closed the deal with conservatives, he would have captured the nomination.” I would agree on both fronts. Rod Dreher, though, loves him some Jindal but wonders if it would be a mistake for him to take the slot on what looks like a losing ticket.
Jindal’s a rising star and had positions of enormous responsibility as a variable kid. But he’d be a strange choice to be the candidate for one heartbeat away from the presidency on a ticket arguing Barack Obama’s too inexperienced to be trusted with the keys.
When all’s said and done, I actually expect McCain to take Blankely’s advice and double down on experience and national security cred. A McCain-Lieberman ticket would be a bold choice, although a risky one. I’d think Ridge’s ship has sailed. There’s always Condi Rice, a favorite among conservatives, but there’s not much upside for a candidate trying to persuade people that he doesn’t represent a third term for George W. Bush.