On The Lookout For VP Announcements

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain still have not announced their vice presidential running mates. There is speculation that Obama will announce his choice by the end of the week. John McCain is expected to announce his pick next week.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

This is the week in which Senator Barack Obama is expected to announce his choice of a running mate. That news could come as early as this morning, or not. Obama's reported to have made up his mind, but his campaign isn't giving any hints as to who it would be. And if all goes according to plan, his supporters, not the media, will get the first news via text messages and email.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been our guide throughout the campaign, and she joins us live this morning. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Okay, Mara. Who is it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Come on. You know.

LIASSON: Well, I wish I did. The only thing I'm confident of is that the decision has now been made. And, you know, every couple of days, there's this new consensus about who the vice presidential choice is among people who don't really know anything at all. And there are only six people, approximately, who know. They're inside the Obama campaign, and they're not talking.

And that is why the Obama schedule is being read like tea leaves. He's in Virginia today. He'll be in Richmond tomorrow morning. Maybe that means it's Tim Kaine. But on Saturday, he's going to Springfield, Illinois, where he began his campaign. So, if you were going to pick a vice president from an important battleground state, like Virginia, you wouldn't necessarily have them come from Springfield.

So, maybe the vice president is from a state that's electorally negligible, like, say, Delaware, the home state of Joe Biden.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, and, right, of course. And why is there so much frenzy, though, over the VP pick? I mean, it doesn't really make that much of a difference to the outcome of the election.

LIASSON: That's true, but it's the first presidential-level decision a candidate makes, and it tells you an awful lot about them. And for Obama, I think the choice is really between shoring up your weakness - in Obama's case, the lack of foreign policy experience - by picking someone like a Joe Biden, or reinforcing your message of change - someone with no Washington experience or taint - like a Tim Kaine.

But, you know, these decisions aren't just about electoral calculations. Who will help me get more votes? They're also about governing. And I am told that Obama is thinking a lot about who he wants on his team in the White House, not just on his ticket - a vice president, not just a running mate.

And Obama has a relationship with Tim Kaine. He was one of his earliest supporters. He also has a relationship with Joe Biden. He has respect for how Biden handled himself in the campaign when Biden was a candidate, and also they have a close working relationship on the foreign policy committee.

The other thing - foreign relations committee. The other thing we know is that Obama is a pragmatist. He wants to pick someone who's safe. But the big question is, though, who does he think is that safe choice? I don't know. I'm just waiting for my text message like everyone else.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, Senator Joe Biden is pretty well known nationally, having run for president himself, or run for the nomination. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine: a little less well known to the general public, but in an important state.

But, Mara, the tone of the campaign, it seems to have gotten more negative just very lately. You're just back from a couple of days on the road with Barack Obama. What's your sense?

LIASSON: The tone has definitely gotten sharper. The race has tightened. That might be one of the reasons. In a lot of polls, Obama's small, steady lead has gotten a little smaller. I think the McCain attacks on Obama, especially the ads, have appeared to have taken a toll.

There have also been a course of nervous Democrats begging Obama to hit back harder, not allow himself to be swiftboated like Kerry or Dukakis was, and to use a sharper economic message against McCain. And I think he started to do that this week on the campaign trail.

He's also got a very tough economic ad against McCain, saying how can you fix the economy if you don't think it's broken? So I think you are definitely seeing that.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, could these ads backfire on Obama, who quite famously has said he was wanting to run a different kind of campaign?

LIASSON: Look, I think that both of these candidates were going to be different kinds of politicians. They're both running tough, negative ads. It might backfire a little, but we also know that negative ads work. The thing to watch for, I think, is what happens after McCain is nominated and he enters the public financing rules where he can't spend any more than $84 million - and Obama has multiples of that available to him - and then I think the ad words might not be at parity anymore.

MONTAGNE: Mara, thank you very much. NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

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