Speculation Builds On McCain's, Obama's VP Picks

The latest speculation about Democrat Barack Obama's choice for vice president is on three men: Tim Kaine, Joe Biden and Evan Bayh. John McCain, on the other hand, is looking at Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and Tom Ridge.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. We begin this hour with presidential politics, or more specifically, vice-presidential politics. Speculation about the veep stakes has reached a fever pitch in Washington.

BLOCK: Conventional wisdom holds that presidential candidates should look for someone to counterbalance their perceived weaknesses, popularity in a key region of the country, expertise in a specific policy arena, age or charisma.

Both candidates have said their most important criterion is finding someone who shares their vision for leadership.

NORRIS: Our national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, has been following the veep selection process and she joins me now here in the studio. Mara, there are reports that both campaigns now have short lists of candidates. What do we know?

MARA LIASSON: Well, to the extent that these lists are very short, on Obama's side I would say there's Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia; there's Evan Bayh, senator from Indiana; and there's Joe Biden, senator from Delaware.

On the McCain side, I would say the short list is Mitt Romney, obviously former governor of Massachusetts; Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota; and then Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana; and Tom Ridge, who - former governor of Pennsylvania, great friend of John McCain's.

NORRIS: Now on the Democratic side, one name I didn't hear you mention, Hillary Clinton.

LIASSON: Hillary Clinton, I think, has never been on the short list, and shortly after Obama wrapped up the primaries, he sent a message anonymously, through his aides, to the Wall Street Journal, that she was unlikely to be picked because it was simply too difficult to imagine how they would incorporate Bill Clinton into the campaign. He would have to do all sorts of disclosures that he wasn't willing to do. I think that Senator Clinton understands that she is not going to be the choice.

NORRIS: Mara, what does each of these candidates need to balance their ticket? And let's begin with John McCain.

LIASSON: There are two models here. I would say one is the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney model: Pick someone who shores up your weaknesses. The other is the Bill Clinton model: pick someone, Al Gore, who reinforces your message - new, young, different.

I think for McCain, the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney model is picking Mitt Romney. He has experience in business. He's an executive. Those are things that McCain doesn't have.

NORRIS: Strong in Michigan.

LIASSON: Strong in Michigan. You could say the Bill Clinton/Al Gore model for McCain is somebody who reinforces his message that he is a reform Republican, maybe a Tim Pawlenty. He's a reform Republican governor of Minnesota, or Bobby Jindal - new, different, young, Republican reformer in Louisiana.

NORRIS: And Barack Obama - now, what does he need to balance his ticket?

LIASSON: Well, I think if you look in terms of the traditional model, George W. Bush/Dick Cheney, he needs someone with foreign policy experience, maybe executive experience. That would lead you to a Joe Biden or a Sam Nunn. If you want to reinforce your message, you get to Tim Kaine. He's new, he's outside Washington, he has the value also of being the governor of Virginia, which lo and behold is actually a battleground state this year.

NORRIS: What's at stake?

LIASSON: A lot. This is the very first presidential-level decision that either of them will make. Choosing a vice president sends a huge message. The vice-presidential candidate himself might not actually do anything for you electorally, but your choice of him is a big deal and sends a very important message. And you know, there's a cliche about this - they can only hurt you, they can't really help you very much. What you want to do first is do no harm. You want to avoid somebody like a Geraldine Ferraro, who's going to blow up in your face because you didn't vet her well enough, or Dan Quayle, who also wasn't vetted well enough. So you want to vet them very well, and then, of course, you want to think about when to make the announcement.

NORRIS: And my last question: timing.

LIASSON: Well, timing is pretty interesting. The signals I'm getting from the McCain campaign is they would like to announce it at a time when they step on a big news story of Barack Obama's, which might be the Friday after he gives that big rally-style speech in Denver at INVESCO Field. For Obama, I think really has a kind of open field between now and the week before his convention in Denver, although if he wants to go on a vacation with his family and leave his vice president to do the campaigning, maybe he wants a good week with him, whoever it may be, on the trail before he does that. So all these things are factored in.

NORRIS: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That's NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

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