With last night’s victories, John McCain crossed the 1191-delegate line, winning the nomination. Now he has the luxury of standing back, letting Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama beat each other up and raising money for the Fall race.
And what about that running mate? The question for McCain is what function his pick should serve. McCain certainly doesn’t need to ballast his ticket with age and gravitas, as George W. Bush did when he selected Dick Cheney. McCain will be 72 when the next president takes the oath of office, and might want to go with a relatively young running mate who can carry the torch into the 2016 election. That would rule out Fred Thompson, who will be 66 on inauguration day.
Since McCain will be running against a Democratic candidate who is either black or female, some have suggested he practice a bit of tokenism in his selection. Colin Powell is too old (70) and too unpopular with conservatives. Condoleezza Rice seems uninterested in electoral politics, and in any case would muddy McCain’s foreign policy message, which has emphasized his track record of criticizing the Bush administration from the right on the management of the Iraq occupation. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is 64, which may be too old.
Michael Steele, former lieutenant governor of Maryland, would be high on the shortlist if he’d won his 2004 Senate race, but he didn’t. Other names in this category that get tossed around include congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, former congressman J.C. Watts, and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin.
Some candidates aim for a geographically balanced ticket, as Georgian Jimmy Carter did when he selected Minnesotan Walter Mondale as his running mate. With that in mind, some have suggested McCain needs a Southerner. Mike Huckabee, who dropped out of the race and endorsed McCain last night, is often discussed as a possibility.
But Huckabee is thin-skinned and often shortsighted. He picked an unnecessary fight with economic conservatives by labeling the Club for Growth the “Club for Greed” in response to their criticism of his record on taxes. McCain has enough problems as it is reassuring conservatives that he’s an acceptable candidate.
Less abrasive southern Governors Sonny Perdue of Georgia, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and especially Mark Sanford of South Carolina might be able to satisfy southerners and social conservatives without angering other factions of the party.
There’s another way of approaching the geography question, of course. McCain might want a running mate who gives him a leg up in the November by shoring up a swing state.
Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida is often mentioned as a possibility and he clearly wants the job — though there are some good arguments against giving it to him. Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor who is McCain’s campaign co-chair, seems a much more likely choice, particularly since he endorsed McCain in January 2007 and stuck with him even when his campaign seemed dead. Crist only endorsed McCain shortly before the Florida primary, by which time it was clear that McCain had momentum coming out of South Carolina.
Vice-presidential nominees don’t always provide balance to the ticket; sometimes they mirror the ideology and biography of the nominee. The idea is to harden the narrative of the candidacy rather than soften it. That’s what Bill Clinton was up to when he selected Al Gore, a fellow southerner.
McCain might follow this logic and select his friend Rudy Giuliani. It would dismay social conservatives, who are already slightly skittish about McCain, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t do it if he decides he wants to.
Of course there’s no rush. John Kerry clinched the Democratic nomination in March of 2004 and didn’t select John Edwards as his running mate until July. But if McCain wants to send a message that the GOP is united and ready to fight even as the Democrats remain mired in a divisive scramble for superdelegates, an early vice-presidential nominee announcement would be a good way to do it.