Sam Nunn Joins Veepstakes

Obama-Nunn 2008 In the long months between now and the conventions, one recurring theme we’ll see in the press and the punditocracy is speculation of who Barack Obama and John McCain will chose as running mates. None of us have any idea, of course, other than that Dick Cheney is not on anybody’s list. But it’s still fun to speculate.

For Obama, the most prominent names I’ve seen, aside from Hillary Clinton of course, are former North Carolina Senator John Edwards (Motto: He did so well in 2004), Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius (a white woman who’s much less annoying than Hillary), former NATO commander and Marine Commandant Jim Jones (my boss’ boss at the Atlantic Council), former NATO commander and 2004 also-ran Wesley Clark and, now, former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn. Former Reagan SECNAV and current Virginia Senator Jim Webb, widely touted by myself and others, seems to have fallen out of favor. Also, since Jim Johnson has been ousted, we’re pretty sure that Obama won’t pull a Dick Cheney and pick his selection committee chairman.

Clinton, Edwards, and Sebelius would be traditional choices made for standard political reasons. Jones, Clark, or Nunn would be an admission that national security is a huge issue and that Obama needs help there. Frankly, unless he puts Jeremiah Wright on the ticket, I’m not sure it much matters.

The conventional wisdom is probably right that McCain’s VP choice matters more than Obama’s simply because of McCain’s age. At 72, it’s hard to see him running for a second term and, let’s face it, he’s more likely than his 45-year-old opponent to die in office.

Speculation centers on former 2008 challengers Mitt Romney (less conservative than McCain but more favored among conservatives), Mike Huckabee (reducing the Republican Party to its essential element), Louisiana governor and boy wonder Bobby Jindal (half McCain’s age and “of color”), Florida Governor Charlie Crist (who’s from Florida), Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (who’s a woman), and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (who’s not only a woman but good looking by VP candidate standards). Nobody’s much talking about Condi Rice anymore, given that distancing himself from President Bush is a key McCain priority. Former Democrat Joe Lieberman is a Hail Mary dark horse, creating a possible RINO-DINO* ticket.

Frankly, I’m not particularly enthusiastic with any of the above options. Palin and Jindal are interesting choices but make no sense for a candidate betting the ranch on national security expertise. Huckabee is simply a non-starter, since he alienates pretty much everyone who isn’t a die hard Evangelical. Hutchinson and Crist are safe but boring. Lieberman is the boldest choice, simultaneously doubling down on the Iraq bet and appealing to moderates, but he also energizes a large part of the Democratic base and irritates McCain’s conservative critics on domestic issues.

Is there someone out there that can simultaneously 1) help McCain carry a swing state, 2) bolster his conservative credentials, 3) complement the “Ready on Day One” message?

Image via HuffPo


*Technically, Lieberman’s no longer a Democrat in name but there’s no cute acronym for “Caucusing With the Democrats But Poking them in the Eye with a Sharp Stick Whenever Possible” — much less one which rhymes with RINO.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    Is there someone out there that can simultaneously 1) help McCain carry a swing state, 2) bolster his conservative credentials, 3) complement the “Ready on Day One” message?

    Dan Quayle

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    As you might guess, James, I’m a Sam Nunn fan and have been for decades. I think it’s tremendously unlikely he’ll be tapped to run on the ticket with Sen. Obama.

    First, he’s been out of active politics for some time—an eternity in absent-minded modern America. Basically, he’s an unknown. Second, the very qualities I like in him are probably qualities that will cause Democratic activists to oppose his nomination bitterly. But, most importantly, he’s 70 years old. It would be pretty darned hard to run against McCain because of his age and have McCain’s contemporary as your running mate.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Does McCain need to have his conservative credentials bolstered or his “supports the Republican establishment” credentials bolstered?

    IMO neither but he seems to be working pretty darned hard on the latter.

  4. James Joyner says:


    Agreed all around on Nunn. It’s unlikely Obama picks a fellow 40-something but I’d be surprised if he went with someone much older than 55.

  5. Dantheman says:

    “Is there someone out there that can simultaneously 1) help McCain carry a swing state, 2) bolster his conservative credentials, 3) complement the “Ready on Day One” message?”

    Tim Pawlenty (who I have always heard of as being on McCain’s shortlist) would do at least 1 and 2.

  6. Hal says:

    Bobby Jindal – hands down. If there’s a campaign that needs an experienced exorcist, it’s McCain’s.

  7. Ted says:

    Q&A: Which possible McCain Veep choice do the Dems fear the most?

    Answer: Alaska Gov Sarah Palin

  8. Greg says:

    I think Pawlenty and Rob Portman (former Congressman from Ohio and director of the OMB) should be at the top of the list of McCain’s possibilities. Portman is unknown but was a manager, meaning that they could alternately attack Obama on foreign policy and governance. Pawlenty adds the same thing. Portman would maybe help McCain in Ohio (as much as any VP candidate can) and picking Pawlenty would be a clear attempt to go after the upper Midwest on McCain’s part. I would also add that I don’t think Huchison is a serious candidate for the job.

  9. Beldar says:

    Palin and Jindal are interesting choices but make no sense for a candidate betting the ranch on national security expertise.

    I don’t understand this sentence. McCain’s own strength is national security. The conventional wisdom is that you pick a VP for complementary strengths, not to reinforce the candidate’s own long suit.

    Substantively, what McCain lacks are domestic policy and executive experience, which suggests he ought to pick a governor. Stylistically, he lacks youth and charisma, qualities Obama has in excess.

    Of the available governors, Pawlenty would be a conventional and safe choice; I’m unconvinced that he can deliver even his home state, though, and he doesn’t add much charisma to the ticket. Crist is another conventional choice; McCain could certainly do worse.

    Romney has been vetted more thoroughly than the others. His conservative bona fides remain in doubt, but again, McCain could certainly do worse.

    I’d rather see McCain swing for the fences, though, with an unconventional choice that would definitely resonate in more than one state. I’m a Jindal fan, but I’m even more enthusiastic about Sarah Palin, who has a lot more going for her than her gender and looks (and neither of those hurt).

  10. Pamela says:

    Romney is far more conservative than McCain which is why all of talk radio cringed at the thought of McCain and Huckabee, and went for Romney 100% after Fred dropped out.

    Romney is obviously the best choice for McCain for a host of reasons. That’s why he’s winning most polls, and why all the pundits and party leaders are pressuring McCain to choose him. McCain also said last week that “No one is representing me better than Romney”.

    Romney hits every category McCain needs. Help in key toss-ups like MI, CO, NV and more, fund raising, integrity, experience, intelligence, economic cred, leadership, work ethic, success in both gov and business, character, great family, squeaky clean record, and morals. He’s unflappable on the campaign trail and in interviews and appearances. He never goes off message and won’t let anything stupid fly like the Huckster so often does. And he’s the only one talking about how great America is – we need that!

    I actually can’t think of a downside to Romney, unless you want to count the small group of bigots within the evangelical community who cannot stomach a Mormon in the White House, and I don’t think they amount to a hill of beans when it comes to numbers.

  11. voter says:

    Such narrow-minded, self-righteous nonsense. Huckabee does not “piss off” everybody except the Evangelicals. Most importantly, he appeals to middle class blue collar workers, including certain democrats and independents — you know, the voters that Obama’s money can’t seem to buy. In fact, he only annoys fiscal conservatives, and for all the big buck reasons that he appeals to everyone else.

    For the record, I’m a woman, non-evangelical and a six figure salary Manhattan corporate attorney. And I think Huckabee is the best choice.

    So please keep your “non-starter” opinions to yourself unless you really have something intelligent to state.

  12. Anderson says:

    I’m old-fashioned, I guess — I would’ve thought that what each candidate needs is “someone from Ohio.”

    Or failing that, Missouri, or Florida …

  13. anjin-san says:

    a candidate betting the ranch on national security expertise.

    Wesley Clark is doing a nice job deconstructing McCain’s national security credentials. He would make a great choice for Obama.

  14. Beldar says:

    Yes, dear Lord, please, let Obama pick Wesley Clark. From your keyboard, anjin-san, to Obama’s eyes and ears! We haven’t had a truly loose cannon in the race since Ross Perot. Clark combines all the worst qualities of Eddie Haskell and Al “I’m in Charge Here” Haig.

    My own reservation isn’t with Romney ca. 2007-2008. It’s with Romney ca. 2000-2006, and it has nothing to do with his LDS faith. Combining a centrist, moderate, maverick almost-RINO (McCain) with a former RINO (Romney) who’s only recently found his conservative faith doesn’t ring any Reaganesque chords with me. I doubt that McCain can ever bond with him to the point of actually delegating significant authority to him. (By contrast, I think once Palin overcomes McCain’s ridiculous position on ANWR, the two of them might bond quite well.) But as I said earlier, Romney’s been more thoroughly vetted.

    That said, it’s only appropriate to recognize that some voters will have a problem with Romney’s LDS faith, just like some will have a problem with the color of Obama’s skin (and some, presumably, with the color of McCain’s skin, too). I don’t think it’s likely to be so many as to disqualify him from Veep consideration. But the same John McCain who was stubborn enough to refuse a plane ticket home from Hanoi before his longer-imprisoned comrades there is unlikely to pick Mitt Romney IMHO.

  15. anjin-san says:

    Well, as someone who has actually met Clark, I will go with my opinion. You take Romney and I will take Clark.

    No surprise to hear the Bushies slamming someone who has actually conducted a military operation that was not a cluster___k.

  16. Steve says:

    “Is there someone out there that can simultaneously 1) help McCain carry a swing state, 2) bolster his conservative credentials, 3) complement the “Ready on Day One” message?”

    I can only think of three. Rob Portman, Eric Cantor, and Carly Fiorina. Out of the two congressman, Portman is the more prominent in terms of resume, but both lack media exposure. Where Fiorina lacks in political experience, she makes up in being the glass ceiling shattering former CEO business experience. Plus, there are not many Republicans who are better in front of a camera/audience than her.

    If these three are considered unsuitable, Pawlenty’s the next closest thing McCain will get. After Pawlenty, it really boils down to Rudy, Jindal, and Romney, in that order.