Who Will McCain Pick to Run for VP?

When the next president is inaugurated, Sen. John McCain — the presumptive Republican nominee — will have turned 72. Will his age affect his choice of a running mate?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

That's Senator John McCain at the White House. It may be some time before he makes his vice presidential choice, but it's never too early to start speculating. And NPR's Juan Williams has been checking out the possibilities. Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And I believe you've been talking to Senator McCain's strategists.

WILLIAMS: I have. You know, it's an interesting mix because Senator McCain is in a position where he still has to heal the party, Renee. And by that I mean he still has to consolidate the party's conservative base, and of course that means the Southern states in particular and lots of the evangelical voters. People who view him as unpredictable, of a man who, for some, so long has done things that have antagonized them. Like support stem cell research or campaign finance reform, or challenge the president on the treatment of detainees, torture in particular.

So he has to make sure that the base is enthusiastic. That is going to be his first challenge. And part of that, of course, is he's going to be going around the country introducing or reintroducing himself to people as more than the man who's been in Washington for so long, more than a POW.

The second factor, though, Renee, is his age. He's 71 years old and a lot of the focus groups that his campaign have been looking at in the polls show that voters are concerned about his age. It's interesting. It's not just younger voters but some of the older voters who say, you know, I'm up in age and I don't know that I'd be up for this job if I was being inaugurated at age 72.

MONTAGNE: Well, Juan, give us a short list then of the possible candidates who are young enough and can get the Republican base excited.

WILLIAMS: Well, Renee, it's a range of folks. And I think Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, who's conservative, young, some folks would see him as sort of pugnacious and for that reason they're not sure about him. And of course you'd have to introduce him. Most people don't know who Mark Sanford is.

But then you have people like Mike Huckabee, who was running recently, and of course is a strong evangelical. But that too might be a negative with some of the Independent voters that Senator McCain does bring to the table. You also have people like Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota; Rob Portman, former Ohio congressman.

There's some who say, well, what about the economy? That's clearly emerged as the major issue, especially if the recession hits hard. It would be a problematic issue for the Republicans. So what about bringing Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, the former contender for the nomination, back to the table.

And then there's Jon Huntsman, the governor of Utah, someone who, despite the fact that he was in Utah, did not back Mitt Romney, a Mormon, but backed John McCain. And I would also throw in there Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, an African-American who would add some pizzazz to the ticket.

MONTAGNE: And of course Senator McCain doesn't have to make a choice all that soon, right?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's one of the issues. One of the things that his staff has to deal with is there's some people who want him to make a choice quickly to counter the fact that the Democrats are dominating the media and will be for some time to come given the tensions on that side.

And they say, you know, you could heal the ticket, get people excited again. But there's some who say, wait a second. Just wait until the Democrats settle in and we know exactly what we're running against. Are we running against an African-American, a woman, an African-American and a woman? Exactly who are they bringing to the ticket if they're bringing someone new? And then you respond in kind and then you can also then look at the map and see exactly where your vice presidential nominee could bring you a state, a swing state that might make a difference in the general election.

MONTAGNE: Right, which gets us to the Democratic side. And here I'm asking for a yes or no answer. Hillary Clinton hinted yesterday that she and Senator Obama might make a dream ticket. Yes or no?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, it's possible. The Clinton people are more interested in it than the Obama people. But of course both sides want to be at the top of that ticket, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, obviously. Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's news analyst Juan Williams.

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