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Running Mate Shortlist Logs Risks and Benefits

August 22, 2008

By TOM RAUM Associated Press writer

WASHINGTON – When Barack Obama shows up Saturday in Springfield, Ill., on his way to the Democratic National Convention, he’ll have his new running mate grinning beside him. But that man or woman is still unknown, even as speculation rises to a fever pitch.

Same with John McCain, just days away from his Republican convention.

A big reason the jobs are still open: The contenders believed to be still in the running could pose significant risks as well as helping the presidential candidates.

For Obama, for instance, picking a senator such as Delaware’s Joe Biden or Indiana’s Evan Bayh would bring experience to the ticket but also would make it harder to emphasize his own signature campaign theme of change.

For McCain, former rival Mitt Romney would bring economic experience and ties to battleground Michigan. But Romney has his detractors, even among Republicans, and McCain’s primary-season attacks on him would provide ammunition

for Democrats. For all the talk, running mates seldom are a factor in November outcomes.

But the selection is the most important decision each candidate makes before formally gaining his party’s nomination, and it could reveal much about his judgment.

“It’s an opportunity for them to show that they know how to do it,” said Paul Light, a professor of government at New York University. “In this regard, a bad choice hurts much more than a good choice helps.”

Obama is believed to have narrowed his list to Biden, Bayh, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is still seen by some Democrats as a possibility – but a long shot.

Republican McCain, with an additional week or so to decide, is believed to have a short list that includes Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Possibly also in contention: former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential pick in 2000 who now is an independent.

On the Democratic side:

n Biden, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would bring a wealth of foreign policy experience, something the first-term Illinois senator clearly lacks.

He’s been in the Senate since 1972. But turning to Biden to offset his own foreign policy inexperience could show a lack of confidence by Obama.

Also, Biden, 65, has a spotty political history. He fared poorly as a presidential contender in this year’s Democratic contests. And he still is dogged by his decision to drop out of the 1988 presidential campaign after he was caught lifting lines from a speech by a British Labor Party leader.

Geographically, Biden would bring little. Delaware has voted Democratic in recent presidential contests and has just three electoral votes.

n Bayh, 52, a popular two-term former governor of Indiana and son of former Sen. Birch Bayh, could put Indiana and its 11 electoral votes in play. Indiana has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.

Bayh has a centrist record and executive experience as governor. He sits on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees. He also supported Clinton in the primaries, and that could help Obama with her supporters.

On the down side, having two senators from neighboring Midwestern states wouldn’t amount to much geographic diversity. Also, Bayh’s early support for the Iraq war could be a liability.

n Sebelius, 60, as governor of a traditionally Republican state would bring executive experience to the ticket and could help reach out to both moderate Republicans and to those intent on seeing a woman on the ticket.

Sebelius is the least well-known contender among those Obama is believed to be considering. And her presence on the ticket still might not be enough to win over her solidly red state and its six electoral votes.

Also, die-hard Clinton supporters might react negatively to Obama’s decision to put a woman on the ticket other than Clinton.

n Kaine, 50, is a charismatic speaker and popular Democratic governor in a traditionally Republican state. That could help reinforce Obama’s outside-Washington theme and help to put a GOP state in play. Kaine, a Catholic, might also appeal to voters of that faith.

But Kaine is a lot like Obama in terms of age and relative lack of experience. Some view the fact that Obama has given a convention speaking role to another Virginian, former Gov. Mark Warner – who also is mentioned as a possible contender for the No. 2 spot – as an indication. Kaine may not get the nod since it seems unlikely two prime speaking spots would go to Virginians. Virginia has 13 electoral votes.

On the Republican side:

n Romney, 61, who was McCain’s closest competitor in the GOP primaries, would bring to the ticket economic and executive experience McCain himself doesn’t have. The former Massachusetts governor was chief executive officer of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

Romney is popular in Utah and Colorado, states with large numbers of residents who, like Romney, are Mormons. Still, questions remain about Romney’s shifting stance on issues such as abortion and gay rights.

n Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, could bring McCain the support of conservative Republicans and help in a state that has supported Democratic presidential candidates since 1976. Minnesota has 10 electoral votes.

At 47, he is Obama’s age. Growing up in St. Paul, site of the GOP convention, he has a blue-collar background and a reputation as a budget cutter and tax-cut advocate. While generally seen as a safe choice, Pawlenty is little known outside his home state.

n Ridge, 62, is a popular former Pennsylvania governor and, like McCain, a Vietnam War veteran. After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush named him as director of the Office of Homeland Security and later secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security.

Ridge’s big liability, from a GOP viewpoint, is his support for abortion.

n Picking Lieberman, 66, one of McCain’s most outspoken campaign trail partners, would signal a reach across the political aisle. Lieberman was Democrat Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 and currently represents Connecticut in the Senate as an independent.

While the choice might be applauded by some as a bold bipartisan move, it also could trigger a backlash both among conservatives in both parties.

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