When the Time is Right, Who Will be Kerry’s No. 2?, DePauw’s Ken Bode Asks

Originally posted: February 24, 2004

Dr. Bode is Eugene S. Pulliam Distinguished Professor of Journalism at DePauw University and former senior political analyst for CNN

At a certain time in presidential campaigns, the conversation switches from who will win the nomination to who will be picked for vice president. As sure as the groundhog comes up in February, it is now time to handicap the vice presidential possibilities.

Soon, at a time when it no longer appears presumptuous, John Kerry will admit he is thinking about his running mate and has asked a respected veteran to head the search.

Then the debate begins. One side will argue that this is the most important decision a future president makes before being elected. Consider, just since Roosevelt: Truman, Nixon, Johnson, Ford, Mondale, Bush I, and Gore — all are vice presidents who succeeded to the presidency or sought and won their party’s nomination.

There is no certain route to the Oval Office, except perhaps Yale, but the vice presidency is the path most often traveled. So, when Kerry makes his choice, he could be picking another president.

Those of the other persuasion say it really doesn’t matter, that John Nance Garner was right in saying the vice presidency is nothing but the spare tire on the automobile of government. Candidates picked to add electoral force often fizzle, sometimes failing to carry their own states. Just pick somebody who will do no harm, is the dictum. So said George W. Bush, who picked Dick Cheney.

All that said, let’s look at Kerry’s options. There is some tradition of picking from the field of defeated candidates. In 1980, George Bush dropped out and endorsed Ronald Reagan with a dozen primaries left; Reagan picked him as veep. This year, Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman traveled from the top ranks to the bottom at warp speed. Off the list.

Howard Dean is geographically undesirable. A Massachusetts-Vermont ticket would be a Republican dream. Gen. Wesley Clark’s military credentials were his only rationale for running, and Kerry does not need them. Sen. Bob Graham might help win Florida, but when he left the race he looked like a man fed up with presidential politics. The one candidate who has earned a spot on Kerry’s short list is John Edwards.

His late surge, upbeat message and Southern roots make an attractive package. While saying he doesn’t want the job, Edwards continues to make the case against Bush, not offending Kerry. The question is: Would Edwards really do enough to help Kerry in the South?

The politician with the most exciting vote-getting potential may be Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Richardson would be the first Hispanic on a national party ticket, which could begin to lock in that surging population for the Democrats. Also, as a former congressman, U.N. ambassador, energy secretary and governor, Richardson has the credentials. Put Richardson on the short list.

If geography is a factor, Sen Evan Bayh merits consideration. Some believe the Midwest is the real battleground for 2004, with every industrial state in the region hemorrhaging jobs. Bayh has never lost in Indiana, a state that rarely votes Democratic for president.

As Lieberman did in 2000, Indiana law allows him to run for re-election as senator and for vice president at the same time. If Kerry picked Bayh, he would assign him to carry the jobs message and have him camp out in six marginal Midwestern states.

The senator says he is not interested, you say? Don’t believe it. The vice presidency is Bayh’s best shot at the Oval Office.

Choosing a woman would give Kerry a chance to capitalize on the enduring gender gap that already favors the Democrats. The top Democratic woman in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, is off the list for two reasons. First, she only accentuates Kerry’s own liberalism. Second, you might not want to pick a member of Congress from San Francisco at a time when that city is issuing 2,000-plus possibly illegal licenses for gay marriage.

Kerry’s list is short. And it is possible that the biggest news could be made on the other side of the ballot. Al Neuharth, the man who created USA Today, recently predicted in his weekly column that George W. Bush will do what his father did not, namely dump his vice president. Neuharth, a smart man, prognosticates that at the GOP convention in September, commemorating 9/11 at Ground Zero, Bush’s choice for a new vice president will be Rudy Giuliani.

Stay tuned for the fun.

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