RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
If Hillary Clinton's strongest support has come from women, Barack Obama still has to win over many Jewish voters, long a mainstay in Democratic politics. Obama was in Florida yesterday at a synagogue, trying to make his case for the general election, and John McCain has a controversy with some of his supporters to deal with.
That plus talk of potential running mates has filled this week's political news. We called our campaign brain trust, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and political editor Ken Rudin, to make sense of it all. Mara, Ken, good morning.
KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Renee.
MARA LIASSON: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: And, Mara, let's start with you. Why did Barack Obama speak at a synagogue in Boca Raton yesterday.
LIASSON: Well, Jews are a tiny portion of the electorate as a whole but they are an extremely important part of the Democratic coalition, especially in swing states like Florida where he was yesterday, and Pennsylvania. This is voting block he has pretty consistently lost to Hillary Clinton.
And some of the resistance to him, obviously, is racial, like in the Hispanic community or among white working-class voters. But a lot of it is based on suspicion and misinformation. There are viral email chains in the Jewish community saying that he's a Muslim, that he takes advice from Farrakhan, that he's bad on Israel, and he was down there in Boca Raton trying to correct some of this and reach out to Jewish voters.
MONTAGNE: And Ken, religion played a role for John McCain's campaign yesterday, as well, when he had to outright reject the endorsement of an evangelical leader. Tell us about that.
KEN RUDIN: Right. That leader is John Hagee, and you know, we always know - we know about Barack Obama's troubled relationship with his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. John McCain has been trying to link the two of them, but of course John Hagee has given John McCain some fits as well. Hagee has made critical incendiary comments about the Roman Catholic Church, about the role of God in Hurricane Katrina and gays, and now they had this unearthed recording by Hagee about how God sent Adolf Hitler to help the Jews reach the promised land.
So McCain - it was a big embarrassment for McCain. He had to reject his support outright, calling it offensive and indefensible, and it was a controversy that McCain did not want to have yesterday.
MONTAGNE: He also, Ken, announced three potential running mates who will spend some quality time with him at his Arizona ranch this weekend - with families, a big group. Ken, who are they?
RUDIN: Well the three this weekend - Charlie Crist, the perpetually tan Florida governor; Bobby Jindal, the newly elected governor of Louisiana. He's 37 years old and looks much, much, much younger than John McCain's 71 years old. And there's also Mitt Romney, the former rival, who clearly wants to be the V.P., raising a lot of money for John McCain.
Perhaps they're there for a V.P. tryout. Perhaps they're there for R&R. And there are others on the list - Minnesota Governor, Tim Pawlenty is widely mentioned; former Ohio Congressman, Rob Portman - he's an expert on budget issues; there's also former rival Mike Huckabee; John Thune, the senator from South Dakota; and Joe Lieberman, the independent senator from Connecticut, is on the list as well.
Now, usually we overemphasize the importance of running mates, but John McCain is 71 years old and has been health questions, so obviously it's an issue of concern for many people.
MONTAGNE: And Mara, Obama's not a candidate yet, but surely he's started up a vice-presidential search.
LIASSON: Yes he has. Now obviously, choosing the vice president is your first presidential-level decision, and he has tasked Jim Johnson, he's an old Washington hand, a kind of Democratic wise man, to set up a search committee to vet vice-presidential candidates. Johnson has played this role before with Mondale, with John Kerry, and Obama has a growing short list, too.
Joe Biden is on it. Former Senator Sam Nunn is on it. Senator Jim Webb is on it; Ted Strickland, big Hillary supporter, governor of Ohio; Ed Rendell, governor of Pennsylvania; and of course the likely runner-up, Hillary Clinton, is on it.
MONTAGNE: Well just in the few seconds we have left, what's up with the Clinton campaign?
LIASSON: Well, I mean, Clinton's potential spot on the ticket is the subject of lots of speculation, widespread assumption among Democrats that she will want it, although her campaign has kept completely mum about her desires. Obama's camp, although they are also publicly completely mum about his intentions, privately will give you all the reasons why it's not a good idea to put her on the ticket. The big question the Democrats are talking about is, could she somehow mobilize her delegates to force her way onto the ticket if that is what she wants?
MONTAGNE: Thank you both.
RUDIN: Thank you, Renee.
LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent, and Ken Rudin is a political editor.
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