McCain, Obama Said to Ponder VP Choices

Looking forward to a fall campaign, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama are quietly considering potential running mates. Ron Klain, who helped vet VP candidates for Al Gore in 2000, offers insight into the secretive process.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

With the primary season finally starting to wind down, at least two of the candidates appear to be starting the process of looking for running mates. This weekend, Senator John McCain is set to meet some potential candidates at his ranch in Arizona. And on the Democratic side, there are reports that Barack Obama's campaign is gearing up for its own deep-secret veep vetting, although the senator is not talking about it.

Ron Klain has done that vetting. He was chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore, and he helped choose vice presidential candidates in 1992 and in the year 2000. We asked him how Barack Obama might balance the ticket.

Mr. RON KLAIN (Former Gore Chief of Staff): Well, I think some of this older style ticket balancing calculus that if you're from the North, you need someone from the South, if you're from the East, you need someone from the West, if you're old, you need someone young, blah, blah, blah - I think that's kind of passe, if will, as a theory of vice presidential selection.

In 1992, President Clinton, who was young and was from the, you know, central part of the country and from the central wing of the Democratic Party, defied every ticket balancing theory that exists to mankind and picks someone who is the exact same age with a very similar ideological perspective from the state right next door to his state, Al Gore, and put him on the ticket.

And so, you know, I don't think that Senator Obama has to approach this process with a thought in mind that because he's a certain kind of person from a certain kind of place with certain kind of views he needs something that is different or diametrically opposed or whatever.

NORRIS: What about John McCain? You said that the notion of balancing the ticket is passé; would that apply to the Republicans as well?

Mr. KLAIN: I think it does apply to the Republicans as well. I think in Senator McCain's case what's different is he has been around national politics a lot longer than Barack Obama. And so he probably comes to this process knowing the potential vice presidents a little bit better than Senator Obama does. But in terms of a classic ticket balancing theory, that because he's older he needs someone younger - well, I mean, I think the fact is because he's older, it's almost certain he will wind up with someone younger. But I don't think that's about ticket balance, it's about demography and just the natural way this process tends to play itself out.

NORRIS: John McCain is holding an interesting event this weekend. A number of candidates and their spouses are going to be coming through and meeting with him. Have you ever seen anything like that before?

Mr. KLAIN: Well, I know the McCain campaign says this isn't about picking a vice president, that many people who are coming are not vice presidential possibilities, and I think you have to take that at face value. But there are definitely a number of vice presidential prospects on that list. And in that sense it is kind of extraordinary event. And you know, I would pay anything to be a fly on the wall as these people socialize together over the weekend and all check each other out and whatnot.

NORRIS: How deep do you dig? It's your job to go out and try to find anything that your opponent might be looking for.

Mr. KLAIN: Sure, I think there's no question that when you get to the very end of this process, every vetter's nightmare is the surprise. We obviously saw this in 1972 with the selection of Thomas Eagleton on the Democratic ticket that turned out to be a disaster. You want to make sure that you learn everything you can possibly learn about someone so that there are no surprises after that person is picked.

NORRIS: And how do you go about doing that?

Mr. KLAIN: Well, it's a combination of things. I mean, some of that is direct interviews with the candidates. Some of that is talking to people who the candidates know. When you get to the very end stage, the people who are being considered will be asked to provide to the campaign confidentially a lot of financial records, and then there is that moment, that moment where the very senior representative of the campaign will sit down opposite a potential vice president nominee, look that person in the eye and say, hey, is there anything we should know about? And in the end, you have to hope that that person understands what's at stake, what's involved, what's at risk, and gives a straightforward and candid answer to that question.

NORRIS: Ron Klain, thanks so much.

Mr. KLAIN: Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Ron Klain was the chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore, and this weekend you can see a version of Ron Klain on screen in the HBO film "Recount." I'm looking at you to see how much you actually resemble Kevin Spacey.

Mr. KLAIN: Not so much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: All right. Thanks, Ron.

Mr. KLAIN: Thank you.

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