McCain Seeks Unifying Running Mate

Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain went back to his roots this week, visiting places and remembering experiences that influenced him. McCain is also searching for a running mate to help unify his party. Independent consultant Matthew Dowd speaks with NPR's Susan Stamberg.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

John McCain went back to his roots this week, visiting places and remembering experiences that influenced him. Along the way, Senator McCain said he has begun sifting through possible running mates and plans to pick one well before the Republican convention in September.

Matthew Dowd is a political consultant who was chief strategist for President Bush's re-election campaign in 2004. He joins us from member-station KUT in Austin, Texas. Hello.

Mr. MATTHEW DOWD (Political Consultant; Chief Strategist, President George W. Bush): Great to be here. Thank you.

STAMBERG: Why is Senator McCain introducing or really re-introducing himself to voters at this point in the campaign?

Mr. DOWD: Well, it's two-fold. The first, I think he wants to draw a contrast with, whether it's Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, the difference between his biography and his life story and their life story, and his life story, obviously, is not only about politics.

The second part is he's trying to get some press and engage and get some conversation about him in the midst of a heated Democratic primary, and so I think that's why he's trying to do it is to sort of provide a contrast and then try to get some of his own story, his own narrative, in the midst of a hard-fought Democratic contest.

STAMBERG: If you were his chief strategist right now, where would you suggest that he go to tap a running mate?

Mr. DOWD: The first thing they always say is that it has to be somebody who can step into the office of president. So if you just assume that, I would seriously look at the governor of Louisiana…

STAMBERG: Bobby Jindal.

Mr. DOWD: Yeah, Bobby Jindal, who's the first Indian ever elected state-wide in this country. He's governing in a state as a Republican that was a Democratic state where Katrina happened. Now that would be unconventional, and I think he needs to think about unconventional. Conventional picks would be the governor of Florida or the governor of Minnesota, both white male politicians.

STAMBERG: Senator McCain is leading both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama by very slim margins in recent polls. Republicans overall are lagging far behind the Democrats. So what kind of omen is that for November, do you think?

Mr. DOWD: Well it's interesting. I mean, if you take a look at the generic ballot numbers, which is, you know, do you want a Democrat or a Republican to hold presidency, the Democrats lead by double digits, but then when you add names, it becomes very competitive, sometimes with John McCain with a slight lead.

I think it's still the Democrats' race to lose, though the margin of victory has gotten smaller over the last couple of months because the country wants a change, the country doesn't like the current president.

All of those numbers in the body politic suggest a Democrat's going to win, but interestingly enough, the Democrats are going out of their way to try to make it competitive by what they're doing in the Democratic primary right now.

STAMBERG: But by some accounts, he's having trouble getting big Republican money. Is that going to change, do you think?

Mr. DOWD: Well, I don't know if it's going to change. He's always had difficulty raising money. He's never been a darling of the establishment. I think he'll raise enough to be competitive going into the conventions and do what he needs to do. The great thing for him, he doesn't have an opponent, so he doesn't need a lot of money, he doesn't need a lot of fuel to run his campaign on.

It's a problem because of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's race, it factors of two or three or four times as much as he does, but I think he'll have enough to get to the conventions, and after the conventions, he'll take the public money, which will enable him to run his campaign in the last two months.

STAMBERG: Matthew Dowd is a political consultant. He was top strategist in President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. Thank you very much.

Mr. DOWD: You're welcome, thanks.

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