Who Will Be McCain's No. 2? John McCain's running-mate choice is important for two reasons. The presumptive Republican nominee needs to send a signal to doubting conservatives that he is really one of them. And McCain, 71, may well be a one-term president, so the person he picks for VP will be eagerly watched.
NPR logo Who Will Be McCain's No. 2?

Who Will Be McCain's No. 2?

Minnesota's governor, Tim Pawlenty, is a leading contender for McCain's VP. But here's a dark horse to consider: Ohio's Rob Portman. hide caption

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In 1996, Jack Kemp became the first Republican running mate named before the convention began. hide caption

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Henry Wallace was the last sitting Cabinet member named to a presidential ticket. hide caption

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Forty years ago today, Eugene McCarthy defeats President Johnson in the Wisconsin primary, two days after LBJ announced he would not run again. hide caption

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This may come as a surprise to those who are riveted and absorbed by every back and forth between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but there is a Republican running for president this year as well. His name is John McCain. He's from Arizona, he's been in Congress since 1983, and he had the fortune — or misfortune — to wrap up his party's nomination last month.

There are pluses and minuses to his virtual disappearance from the front pages. He can, for the most part, sit back as the two Dems claw at each other, picking up disaffected independents in the process. There is also the possibility that voters will forget about him. And when he has received media coverage, it hasn't always been complimentary; witness when he misspoke about Iran training al-Qaida forces. He still is struggling to raise the kind of money that helped George W. Bush during his two campaigns, and he still has some work cut out for him to rally conservatives to his side. McCain is in the midst of a cross-country tour to reintroduce himself to voters. Some polls have shown him defeating either Democrat in the general election.

It is not going out on a limb to suggest that polls seven months in advance are a bit suspect — we couldn't even get the New Hampshire primary right the day of the primary! — but it does tend to amplify Democrats' nervousness about the personal and contentious battle taking place between Clinton and Obama; many fear what toll it could take on the party and its chances of winning in November. After all, it's not rocket science to assume that the longer a battle goes on for a presidential nomination, and the more personal it gets, the more the party's chances for victory in November are diminished. We saw it with the Republicans (Reagan vs. Ford) in 1976 and with the Democrats (Kennedy vs. Carter) four years later. The prospect of a repeat performance by the Dems this year is especially alarming to many in the party, who feel that after the "almosts" of 2000 and 2004, this is the year the stars are aligned for them to win back the White House.

Some Democrats — notably Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, an Obama supporter — are calling for Clinton to drop out of the race, pointing to calculations that suggest Clinton cannot overtake Obama's lead among pledged delegates. The Clinton folks, in return, say that withdrawing is ludicrous, especially if she wins Pennsylvania, as expected, on April 22. And besides, neither candidate can win the nomination without the support of superdelegates, some 250 of which are still undeclared. Both Clinton and Obama are putting on a full-court press to win over these supers.

On the other hand, the Republicans, it has been said, like things neat and tidy. Their winner-take-all procedure for delegates in many states allows their candidate to wrap up things sooner than later; McCain's victory on March 4 was the earliest clinching of a GOP presidential nomination in history.

The Republicans, as the incumbent party, will hold its convention after the Democrats, beginning Sept. 1. Only one thing of consequence will happen for the GOP between now and then: McCain will choose his No. 2. It may be the most important decision he makes between now and Nov. 4.

Yes, the selection of a running mate is often overrated. The feeling four years ago was that John Kerry's naming of John Edwards was an inspired choice, but after all was said and done it's hard to see where he helped. No southern state, including Edwards' home of North Carolina, voted Democratic that year. And for all the fanfare of having Geraldine Ferraro on the Democratic ticket in 1984, Walter Mondale still lost 49 states.

But sometimes it really has mattered. Lyndon Johnson may have been the difference between victory and defeat for John Kennedy in 1960. Bill Clinton threw conventional wisdom out the window in 1992 when he picked fellow Southerner and baby boomer Al Gore, who turned out to be the most influential vice president in history. That is, until the next administration, when George W. Bush got the foreign policy gravitas he was lacking when he named Dick Cheney. No vice president in history has ever had the power that Cheney has had during the past seven-plus years.

For McCain, the choice of a running mate is important for two reasons. One, he needs to send a signal to doubting conservatives that he is really one of them. True, in what still appears on paper to be a Democratic year, he's got to win over independents and independent-minded Democrats if he is going to make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. His campaign knows that there could very well be a resistance from some voters come November to vote for a woman or an African-American. But he can't name a moderate to the ticket either, and certainly not one who is pro-choice.

And two, there is the age factor. At 71, McCain would be the oldest person ever to win the presidency. His mother, Roberta, is 95 years old and shows no sign of slowing down. So for all we know, McCain could live forever. But he has had cancer. At the least, we may be looking at a one-term president. And so the person he picks as a running mate will be eagerly watched.

Here are some possibilities, some more possible than others, listed alphabetically. Subsequent Junkie columns will review their chances:

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-D) of Connecticut
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Former Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota

Let me know what you think. If history is any judge, you have plenty of time to send in your predictions. Here's a timeline when Republican presidential candidates named their ticket mates:

Running mates timeline


Here are some readers' questions about running mates:


Q: Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut has been mentioned as a possible running mate for John McCain. Has anyone ever been the vice presidential candidate for two different presidential candidates? And has there ever been a "mixed ticket" — a prez and VP nominee from different parties? - William Earley, Greer, S.C.


A: There are five instances of major-party vice presidential nominees running with different presidential candidates:


1904: Theodore Roosevelt P, Charles Fairbanks VP (won)
1916: Charles Evans Hughes P, Charles Fairbanks VP (lost)


1892: Grover Cleveland P, Adlai E. Stevenson VP (won)
1900: William J. Bryan P, Adlai E. Stevenson VP (lost)


1876: Samuel J. Tilden P, Thomas A. Hendricks VP (lost)
1884: Grover Cleveland P, Thomas A. Hendricks VP (won)


1824: John Quincy Adams P, John C. Calhoun VP (won)
1828: Andrew Jackson P, John C. Calhoun VP (won)


1804: Thomas Jefferson P, George Clinton VP (won)
1808: James Madison P, George Clinton VP (won)


As for the second part of your question, when President Abraham Lincoln (R) sought re-election in 1864, he chose Andrew Johnson, a former Democratic governor of Tennessee, as his running mate.


Q: It seems to me that Mitt Romney is doing everything he can to get McCain to pick him as his running mate. Do you agree? - Matthew Olson, Pittsburgh, Pa.


A: This will not surprise anyone, but John McCain and Mitt Romney are not the best of buds. Their mutual dislike during the primary season was palpable. But Romney has made it clear that this wasn't going to be his last bid for the White House. He has access to something McCain does not: money. Romney still got good reviews for his campaigning ability. And in the unlikely event that the Democrats' botching of Michigan becomes a big deal in the fall, who better to take advantage of it than someone with the name of Romney? Now, the thought of two rivals for the nomination teaming up on a ticket is not something new or unusual. But they were more than rivals. And McCain seems to be the kind of guy who doesn't forget a slight. I'm guessing it won't happen.


Q: Am I right that until 2000, when Wyoming's Dick Cheney selected himself as Bush's running mate, no candidate for president or vice president had come from a state with only three electoral votes? The only exception I could find would be Joseph Lane of Oregon in 1860, who was the VP candidate with John Breckinridge for the Southern half of the Democratic Party, and when Oregon only had three electoral votes. - Dewie Gaul, Sioux City, Iowa


A: If we're talking only about the two major parties, you are correct. When George McGovern was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, South Dakota had four electoral votes; it now has three. Had Delaware's Joe Biden won the nomination this year, he would have joined that select group.


Q: Condoleeza Rice has been mentioned as a potential running mate for John McCain. Who was the last sitting Cabinet member chosen as a presidential or VP nominee? If Rice were to be nominated, would she have to step down as secretary of state? - Peter Moo, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


A: Rice has said she has no interest in running for office, and in fact is expected to go back to Stanford University once the Bush administration comes to a close. But if for some reason the situation changed and she was named to the ticket, she would leave the Cabinet to run for a partisan office.


There has not been a member of the Cabinet who became a presidential nominee since 1928, when Herbert Hoover (R) — who had been secretary of commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge — was nominated. Eight other presidents served at one time in the Cabinet: Thomas Jefferson (secretary of state under Washington), James Madison (sec/state under Jefferson), James Monroe (sec/state under Madison, sec/war under Madison), John Quincy Adams (sec/state under Monroe), Martin Van Buren (sec/state under Jackson), James Buchanan (sec/state under Polk and Taylor), Ulysses Grant (sec/war under Andrew Johnson), and William Howard Taft (sec/war under Teddy Roosevelt).


In recent history, Dick Cheney and Jack Kemp, both Republicans, were former Cabinet members when they were named as running mates to George W. Bush (2000) and Bob Dole (1996), respectively. Lloyd Bentsen, the Democrats' 1988 VP nominee, later served as treasury secretary. Henry Wallace, President Truman's commerce secretary, quit the Cabinet and later challenged Truman as a third-party presidential candidate in 1948.


Wallace, in fact, was the last sitting Cabinet member named to the ticket. He was FDR's secretary of agriculture when tapped to be Roosevelt's running mate in 1940 after two-term Vice President John Nance Garner broke with the president.


OPEN HOUSE SEATS: One more addition to the list of House members who won't be returning for the 111th Congress: Thomas Reynolds, a Republican from New York's 26th Congressional District, who announced his retirement last week. He is the 26th Republican to call it quits (not including those Republicans who already quit), compared to seven Democrats.


POLITICAL MISCELLANY: Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) declares his candidacy for another term. Lautenberg, who is 84, was first elected 26 years ago, in part, by going after his GOP opponent, then-Rep. Millicent Fenwick, on her age; at the time, Fenwick was 72. Despite his age, the Republicans seem unable to put up (or even find) a serious candidate. But Rep. Rob Andrews (D) has not ruled out a primary challenge ... While there had been whispers that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would face a formidable challenge in the GOP primary or the general election, or both, the filing deadline has come and gone and he looks safe for a second term. ... Mike Gravel, who shall we say did not make a big impact in the Democratic race for president, has bolted to the Libertarian Party, where he will continue his quest for the White House. ... David Paterson, the new governor of New York, has not confessed to any new sins in the past few days.




April 5 - Primary runoffs in Louisiana's 1st Congressional District (to succeed now-Gov. Bobby Jindal) and 6th CD (to replace Republican Richard Baker, who resigned).


April 8 - Special primary election in California's 12th CD to succeed the late Tom Lantos (D).


April 16 - Democratic presidential candidate debate, Philadelphia (ABC).


April 19 - Democratic presidential candidate debate, North Carolina (CBS).


April 22 - Pennsylvania primaries.


IF IT'S WEDNESDAY, IT'S "JUNKIE" TIME ON TOTN: Don't forget to listen to the "Political Junkie" segment every Wednesday on Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, starting at 2 p.m. ET. Yes, it's true, I was spring-breaking last week on some Florida beach, and I missed last Wednesday's show ("Please never go on vacation again," pleaded Red Sox fan-but-otherwise-nice-person Bridget Madden of West Roxbury, Mass.). That brings the total number of e-mails from people who missed me while I was on vacation to ... one. Anyway, I've learned my lesson. This week: more superdelegate updates, whither a credentials fight, John McCain's national tour, Sen. Frank Lautenberg runs again at the age of 84, and wondering about a ticket that includes both Obama and Clinton. Remember, if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can hear the program on the Web. And if you are a subscriber to Sirius radio, you can find the show there as well.


IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly political podcast. It's a combination of brilliant analysis and sophisticated humor, hosted each week by NPR's Ron Elving and me. It goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here. And yes, I missed last week's podcast as well (and was substituted by the always-excellent Robert Smith).


The week before, it was Ron's turn to be out on vacation, and he was replaced by Evie Stone, our persnickety elections producer extraordinaire who was making her broadcast debut. Evie is always the one who sits with Ron and me before each podcast going over the highlights of the week, so who better to have on the show? Apparently, Carl Malmstrom of Chicago agreed: "I just finished listening to this week's 'It's All Politics,' and I think that Evie Stone is fantastic. Her sense of humor and her perspective (not to mention her knowledge of politics) make her a perfect fit for the podcast. While you and Mr. Elving have a great thing going, and I eagerly await each week's new podcast, I hope to hear Ms. Stone again, either as a regular replacement for one of you, or even as a third member of the IAP on-air team."


Want to subscribe to the podcast? It's easy, and it's free! Go to the iTunes Web site, type in "It's All Politics," and voila. You'll be hooked!


******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********


This day in campaign history: Two days after he shocked the nation by announcing he will not seek another term, President Lyndon Johnson is trounced in the Wisconsin Democratic primary, 57-35 percent, by Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-NY), a recently announced presidential candidate, urged his supporters to vote for McCarthy. Former Vice President Richard Nixon is the landslide winner on the Republican side, waltzing past an unauthorized effort by supporters of California Gov. Ronald Reagan and the perennial candidacy of Harold Stassen (April 2, 1968).


Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org