Obama, McCain Contemplate Running Mates

When it comes to VP stakes, sometimes the best choice is none of the above.

ByABC News
July 7, 2008, 5:27 PM

July 8, 2008— -- With less than eight weeks to go before the political conventions, the presidential campaigns are moving into high gear in their quest for running mates, and the parlor game of who will be the vice presidential candidates is well under way.

Ink is spilling, trees are falling and electrons by the millions are energized as pundits, journalists, bloggers and citizens debate the pros and cons of Pawlenty and Crist, Clinton or Hagel, the pluses and minuses of Palin and Mitt, Sebelius and Biden.

With the steady buzz of speculation as a backdrop, the campaigns are quietly gathering documents and information, working secretly to narrow the names and settle on one person for No. 2.

At this point, if history is truly destined for repetition, the smart money is still on "none of the above" for vice president. No clear front-runner or favorite has emerged on either side, and in the complex calculus of the vice presidential selection process, the end result usually defies all the equations -- sometimes with less than stellar results.

This election cycle, because of Sen. Barack Obama's perceived foreign policy inexperience and Sen. John McCain's age, the choice of running mates has taken on an even greater significance than ever before in recent history.

After all, looking back, eight of the 42 past presidents have been replaced in office by their vice presidents, which makes the historical odds that this year's winning wingman (or woman) taking the top job nearly one in five, or 20 percent.

It's a job that, according to the first to hold it, John Adams, is "the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."

John Nance Garner, vice president to Franklin Roosevelt for two terms, supposedly and infamously equated the office to "a warm bucket of spit." And the humorist Will Rogers summed up the job as "All he has to do is get up every morning and say, 'How is the president?'"

Still, the vice presidency is openly coveted by literally dozens of politicians, from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kan., who said she was eager to "drink from that pitcher" of spit, to Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., who serves as a surrogate for Obama on the Sunday talk shows and touts his Cabinet and executive experience and his ties to the Hispanic community as helpful attributes.

Both candidates, in fact, have been sending out some of their possible VP picks to appear on the Sunday talk shows -- almost like tryouts to see how well they deliver the message and defend the candidates' positions under pressure. That's why you can see all the short-listers running the gauntlet on Sunday morning.

Waiting in the wings without appearing to be openly campaigning for the job can be tricky, as some mentionables have noted when asked whether they had aspirations for best supporting roles.

"My biggest problem in answering these kinds of questions," Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., told the Indianapolis Star, "is that if I say yes, people say, 'Oh, well, he's being presumptuous and campaigning for it. If you say no, then people say you're being disingenuous and not telling the truth."

Unlike some contenders, Bayh didn't rule out the possibility. While saying he's happy to continue serving the people of Indiana, he added, "If someone who might be president asked me to help, of course I'd be willing to say yes."

Many of the possible VP candidates sounded similar themes: They aren't seeking the job, but wouldn't say no.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., for example, said on "Meet the Press" recently that he was "not interested" but then added a critical qualifier. "If the presidential nominee thought I could help him win, am I going to say to the first African-American candidate about to make history in the world that 'No, I will not help you out like you want me to?'" Biden said. "Of course, I'll say 'yes.'"

But some contenders have flatly ruled it out.

Monday, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., whose name has appeared on many short lists for Obama -- said he would not be a nominee and would remain in the Senate.

Fellow Virginian Mark Warner, the former governor, also has said he would not be in the running. And Democratic governors Ted Strickland of Ohio and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania -- two key states in any electoral map -- have also taken themselves out of the VP stakes.

Obama has been direct in citing his criteria for a running mate.

"My goal is to have the best possible government," Obama told reporters in Boca Raton in May. "I am very practical-minded," Obama explained, noting "that does not exclude Republicans, either. The best person for the job is the person I would want."

And that has led to speculation that Obama could reach across the aisle and tap someone like maverick Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who was a co-chair of fellow Vietnam veteran John McCain's 2000 campaign, but has become a fierce critic of the Iraq War.

While Hagel would shore up Obama's perceived weakness in military affairs and demonstrate his stated plans for a bipartisan approach to government, Hagel's conservative stance on social issues, like abortion, could sink his chances.

Obama's perceived foreign and military affairs inexperience could be bolstered with a VP pick like Biden or Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a West Point graduate and former Army paratrooper.

Former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn is also in this category, though Nunn last week in Aspen said he was "honored" to be considered as a potential vice presidential running mate but called the odds "long" that he would be selected.