McCain’s Big Choice: Veepstakes 2008!

March 25, 2008

“The Vice President really only has two duties,” Senator McCain half-joked during the 2008 Iowa caucus debates. “One is to cast a tie-breaking vote in the case of a tie vote in the Senate, and the other is to inquire daily as to the health of the president.” Following healthy laughter from the audience in the room, McCain added a more cutting observation that he did not expect to have a vice-president with the high-profile role that Dick Cheney has assumed under President Bush. “I would make very sure that the people understand that there is only one President,” McCain emphasized.

McCain’s Thoughts on the Vice-President’s Role

Though there is only one president, there is also only one vice president, and Americans know that there is a very real chance the vice-president will become the next president, either through presidential death/removal from office, or by running for the office in subsequent elections. Since 1968, there have been 7 different presidents—three were former vice-presidents (Nixon, Ford, and Bush the elder–and it was almost four, if Gore had pulled off the 2000 election). So it is not surprising that the newspapers, airwaves and blogosphere is filled with conjecture as to who McCain’s choice for vice-president will be (politico gossip certain to be repeated when Obama or Clinton seal the deal on the Democratic side). For examples of political analysis of who McCain might pick as his veep nominee and why, see any of the following: The Huffington Post, The LA Times, The National Journal, Rightwing News, or

Don’t like reading? Then here are some interesting video clips/roundtables discussing McCain’s vice-presidential nomination choice.

Pat Toomey: The Club for Growth

Fox News: Studio B

Fox News: You Decide 2008

Now onto my own analysis of McCain’s big choice—one of the very first substantive decisions he will make in his possible tenure as the new American president. To understand who McCain will choose as his nominee (I provide my predictions at the end of this entry), it is important to ponder the kinds of strategic considerations that McCain must weigh. In no particular order, some of those considerations are:

Addressing Age and Health Concerns

Although McCain downplayed the role of the vice president in this debate, he also nailed a key reason why American voters might look very carefully at McCain’s vice-presidential selection as they ponder their final vote: the president’s health. If McCain is elected president at 72 years old, he will be the oldest person to ever ascend to the presidency, and it can be expected that Americans will be very interested in who McCain has chosen to replace himself should he be unable to serve a full four or eight years. Assumedly, Americans will want the choice to be a trusted figure of national stature—someone they can easily imagine in Oval Office. “For Reagan in 1980, age was a big question, was a bigger issue than it is for McCain,” said McCain adviser Charlie Black, in remembering the important of Reagan choosing a respected vice-president, in order to address voters’ concerns. “The day Reagan picked George Bush, it went away. People looked at it and said, ‘Oh, we know this guy, we know he can handle it.”‘

Who fits the bill? General Colin Powell is a well-respected leader with decades of national experience. Though he too is of the older generation, he is considered of presidential timber by many Americans and may help Americans feel secure in the case he has to take on presidential duties. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has long been discussed as a presidential candidate, and his run for the presidency in 2008 may help him make the short list of those Americans are ready to see as their next president. Romney has even campaigned a bit for the spot in television appearances, making it clear that he would be “honored to be asked to serve as the vice presidential nominee.”

Solidify the Base: Woo the Social Conservatives

There are other factors in play that might also make McCain’s vice-presidential pick particularly important to his chances of winning the presidency. McCain is running as a maverick outside of the mainstream of his own party—so there are many who argue that McCain’s veep choice must be solid social conservative. McCain’s strength has never come from the deep South, from the pro-life movement, or from evangelical Christians—all vital constituencies in today’s Republican party. If McCain wants to avoid these groups sitting on their hands come November 2008, or going so far as a protest vote for the Democratic nominee (as some conservative commentators have suggested they do), he may want to woo them with a vice-presidential nominee of impeccable credentials among social conservatives.

Who fits the bill? South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, or even former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee all are strong Southern leaders who are well-respected in the GOP’s social conservative community.

Addressing Issue # 1: The Economy

McCain has admitted that his expertise is not on economic issues. As the economy continues to stall, and as voters claim that solutions to America’s economic ills are their number one issue this election, McCain may want to select a vice-president with strong credentials as a leader in dealing with economic challenges.

Who Fits the Bill? Again, Governor Mitt Romney from Massachusetts staked his case for the Presidency on his experience as a business leader and his efficient leadership of Massachusetts through an era of economic growth. It wasn’t enough to earn the presidential nod from his party—but it might be enough for vice-president. Dark Horse candidates in this category include Steve Forbes (business executive, proponent of the flat tax, and past candidate for the Republican presidential nomination), former Ohio Representative and current Bush head of the Budget Office, Rob Portman, and former Ohio Congressman and current Fox News Television host, John Kasich.

Making History

No matter what happens in the Democratic party from here on out, McCain will be facing a historic opponent—either a woman or a black man, who both bring with them a surging sense of hope and possibility as Democratic voters are sensing a historic moment of change come November 2008. How can McCain match this historic surge and avoid being seen as the tired, old white man representing outdated politics? One strategy is to nominate a historic vice-president; someone able to match Democratic excitement with exciting precedent-setting candidates on the GOP side.

Who Fits the Bill? All across the TV news shows and constantly fueling talk radio is the chatter that McCain’s best choice for Veep would be Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Rice would be a dramatic and historic choice (the nation’s first black woman on a major ticket for the President). She is a well-respected leader who carries a sense of “gravitas” needed in Presidential candidates. Excitement over this precedent-setting choice might help blunt the Democrats’ claim that their party is the only one representing important change and new faces in politics. To view some interesting news clips about the possibility of a Rice vice-presidency, see:

Election Geography

Bottom line, for McCain to win, he has to win enough states in the Electoral College to win 270 electoral votes. Most states are predicted to line up safely within the Democratic or Republican columns (e.g., New York and California for the Dems, Texas and most of the South for the GOP), so the real task for McCain is to pick a candidate who will help him to win key states that could go either way—Democrat or Republican. Some of those key states include Ohio, Florida and Missouri (large and important swing states that have been close in recent elections), Colorado and New Mexico (Western states that have often voted Republican but that are trending Democrat) and Pennsylvania and Minnesota (traditional Democratic states, that Republicans believe might be trending to their party). Choosing a popular candidate from one of these states might insure that the state lines up in McCain’s column.

Who Fits the Bill? Popular Governor Charlie Crist, From Florida, might insure this key state votes for McCain. Former Ohio Members of Congress Rob Portman or John Kasich might swing this state into the GOP column. Governor Pawlenty from Minnesota is another short-lister, who would help the GOP build on the Minnesota momentum they may build after holding their party convention in that state.

Double-Down”: Playing to McCain’s Strengths

McCain has at least three important traits that he will sell as “strengths” to the voters this election year: 1) he is a moderate, able to work with both parties and rise beyond the ideological partisanship of core conservatives; 2) he is a national security and foreign policy expert, able to be trusted in this time of war; 3) he is a ground-breaking maverick, not beholden to any established party and willing to speak his mind freely without insider political calculation. One strategy for choosing a vice president is to choose someone who matches one or more of these strengths—so as to even more strongly present these strengths to the voters. Bill Clinton (from Arkansas) did something like this in 1992, when he choose another southerner (Al Gore, from Tennessee) as his running mate. Clinton gave up geographic diversity on his ticket, but he calculated that a Democratic ticket made up of two southerners might be able to win a few southern states from the Republicans and put them on the defensive.

Who fits the Bill?

To build on McCain’s strengths as moderate, he might consider leaders like General Colin Powell or Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. These choices might not make social conservatives in the GOP happy, but it might help McCain to aggressively compete for “middle-of-the-road” swing voters, denying them to the Democrats.

To build on his national security expertise, McCain might want to consider Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice—which would certainly tie him irrevocably to defending how the Iraq War has been waged—even from the very start, but would also give him an unbeatable ticket in terms of foreign policy and national security expertise. Another good choice would be General David Petraeus, a well-respected military leader credited with recent successes in Iraq and with credible distance from Bush’s early strategic failures in Iraq—since he wasn’t in command back then.

To build on his reputation as a maverick, and to really shake the party establishments up, McCain might even consider the “maverick” choice of Independent Senator (and former Democrat) Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Such a choice would be shocking (Lieberman was Gore’s running –mate in 2000, against Bush), but Lieberman is a moderate in the McCain mold and is good friends with McCain. Lieberman also might help McCain win a state or two in the Northeast (Lieberman is from Connecticut). If nothing else, such a choice would receive tremendous press attention and would cement McCain’s reputation as a mold-shattering maverick. It would be a risky move. Voters may or may not like it; Republican party true-believers would likely be appalled.

Veepstakes 2008: And the Winner Is?

The list of possible picks goes on and on from here, McCain has certainly considered dozens and dozens of candidates by now. We know the kinds of considerations McCain must think of when coming to his decision—but predicting his final choice from among the dozens of good candidates is highly unlikely. But still….political veepstakes are fun, and I will now finally tell you who it is that McCain will pick for his running mate—or at least narrow it down to one of four.

McCain’s top priority has to be winning the election. Period. To do that, especially since he is running against a strong Democratic wind and widespread predictions of Republican disaster in 2008, McCain has to above all else focus on the Electoral College math. He needs a path to eking out a narrow victory in the Electoral College, because there will be no national landslide or widespread mandate for the GOP this year. To achieve his narrow victory, based on winning just enough states to get by, McCain MUST hold on to the key states of Florida and Ohio. Both were narrowly won by Bush in his narrow election victories of 2000 and 2004, and if either had went Democrat, Bush would have lost in either year.

Understanding the importance of holding on to these states, McCain will choose Florida Governor Charlie Christ

Florida Governor Charlie Crist (photo:

A second good geography choice would be charismatic Fox News Personality and former Ohio Representative John Kasich. One of these two men is likely to land on the ticket. (Rob Portman of Bush’s Budget Office is also from Ohio—but he doesn’t have the charisma, cache, or name-recognition of Kasich.)

John Kasich

Former OH Representative, John Kasich (photo:

If McCain doesn’t go for the electoral geography strategy for winning the Presidency, he would be well advised to “double-down” on his foreign policy/national security strengths and strive to make this election all about foreign policy and Iraq. It is hard to see the Republican candidate ever being able to win if the election is about domestic issues and faltering economy—so McCain has to do all he can to shift voters’ attention to Obama’s woeful lack of foreign policy experience (assuming Obama will receive the Democratic nod, which I do) and to make foreign affairs the dominant campaign theme. One way to do this is to chose a dramatic vice presidential nominee who would help dominate the news coverage and force attention away from domestic affairs and onto international matters.

The two best choices for the “Double-Down strategy”: Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

condi rice

Sec of State Condoleeza Rice (photo

or General David Petraeus,perhaps the most respected military leader in Iraq affairs and the one who voters most credit with strategic success do to the “surge” in troops.


Gov. David Petraeus

Should McCain Go All-In?

On second thought, forget “Double-Down”: Rice or Petraeus is a McCain “All-In” on the issue of national security an foreign policy. All eyes would then turn to the American voters—unwilling to trust the newcomer Obama with all their chips, would they take a deep breath and then push all-in with McCain and his military sidekick?