TICKET CHOICE SEARCH
With the nomination for the Republican solidifying mightily, Sen. John McCain has asked his senior advisers to begin pulling together short lists for Vice Presidential choices. At the top of list, according to one senior adviser: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. "There are others that need to be on that list, but you have to believe the Haley is a frontrunner," says the adviser, who knows both McCain and Barbour well.
Barbour would be one name that puts many conservatives at a bit more ease, one of the criteria McCain understands he must meet, according to another adviser: "Another would be geographic balance, and Barbour takes care of that, too."
Other names on the initial list that may have as many as 30 names on it: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is a national chair for McCain, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, and former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, former Rep. J.C. Watts.
Two names set aside from the others: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Sen. Fred Thompson. Bush has stated that he has no interest in elective office at this time and hasn't endorsed a candidate (though it is likely he will soon endorse McCain). Thompson, who endorsed McCain on late Friday, has insisted in the past that he has no interest in serving on the bottom of the ticket. But his relationship with conservatives is so strong that McCain has little choice but at least to put Thompson's name on the list and make an effort to draw him in and hold him close. Thompson campaigned with McCain in 2000, so both men know each other well.
"Thompson as a running mate is more likely than Jeb. McCain has to take a run at both of them if he's going to have any credibility with the movement conservatives once he makes his pick," says the McCain senior adviser helping to draw up the list.
The choice of Thompson would check the box on geography (the South), as well as McCain's acknowledged need to energize the conservative base of the Republican Party for a run in the fall. "We understand that it's going to take more than running against Hillary or Obama to energize our base," says the senior aide. "We need to give our side something and someone to fight for. If it isn't John, then it needs to be ideas and someone they can support enthusiastically."
BELATED BUT BOLD
Radio talk-show host James Dobson's decision to endorse former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is seen as his attempt to inject himself into vice-presidential king-making, and if not that, then establish himself as the new leader of the social conservative movement heading into the next election cycle.
"Dobson doesn't believe we can win in 2008 with John McCain, but he thinks he can be the big winner in 2008 by if not putting his guy on the bottom of the ticket, then gaining credibility as the voice of the evangelical and social conservative movement moving forward," says a longtime, activist member of Dobson's Focus on the Family organization. "Either way, the big winner is Dobson."
Dobson was poised to endorse Huckabee earlier in the primary season, but leaks about the planned endorsement scuttled the plans, in part because just about every other major social conservative had made the decision to sit out the early primary process.
SHE DID IT HER WAY
Last week, in a private meeting with longtime supporters of her and her husband -- including many former senior members of the Clinton Administration -- Sen. Hillary Clinton insisted that, "this is not a reboot of 1992," according to an attendee of the meeting.
"She made it clear that she was happy to see so many friendly faces, but also made it clear that she knows she can't afford to be tied to Bill's Administration and history," says the attendee. "She made the point, though, that she also understood that if it weren't for her husband and his leadership, Barack Obama would not be in the position that he is in today. If that's going to be her message going forward, we're in trouble."
According to campaign insiders, Clinton and her senior team are mulling whether or not they require some kind of dramatic action to change up the narrative of her campaign going forward. "There's a real division over what to do," says one adviser. "Some think we let it ride. Others say we have to do something that distances her from Bill and all the bad stuff that has played out over the past six weeks. We just don't know."