Jewish World Review June 22, 2004 / 3 Tamuz, 5764

Peter A. Brown

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With Kerry's choices, you'd want McCain, too | The intense effort that John Kerry spent unsuccessfully wooing John McCain is the best evidence of just how unexciting the running-mate options are within his own party.

For months, Kerry has pursued the idea that Republican McCain, a personal friend but a political foe, might join him in a unity ticket, despite the Arizona senator's firm denial of interest.

McCain, whose maverick ways endear him to Democrats and independents, nonetheless is a conservative who disagrees with Kerry on most major issues. McCain has endorsed President Bush's re-election despite little personal rapport between the two Republicans.

Yet Kerry until recently refused to take no for an answer because, to put it charitably, Democrats lack much of a bench of those who could help Kerry win the White House.

The irony is that, were Bush to do the politically expedient thing and dump Vice President Dick Cheney, he has several attractive choices within his own party who could improve his re-election chances.

But Bush has made clear that Cheney, who seems to be a drag on the GOP ticket, is staying. That's even though Secretary of State Colin Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice or even McCain would be more impressive than any of the choices now before Kerry.

Kerry ideally would like one of three things in a running mate:

—A senator, but preferably a governor, from a major battleground state whose presence on the ticket might push it into the Democratic column.

—A racial minority or woman who could energize voters because of the candidacy's precedent-setting nature, but still pass the crucial threshold for popular support that requires such a nominee be considered presidential.

—A candidate who complements the presidential nominee in a way that sends a clear message, as the 1992 choice of Al Gore by Bill Clinton showed that the Democrats would offer a youthful, fresh-faced alternative to the Reagan/Bush years.

Yet none of those Kerry is reportedly considering seems to fit any of those molds.

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One reason is that, in the past decade, Republicans have mostly dominated big-state governorships, especially in battlegrounds such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan, which hold the key to this presidential election.

Moreover, the female and minority Democratic candidates who have won major elective office around the country are too far left to help a presidential candidate who himself embodies liberalism.

The exception might be Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, but, because she was born in Canada, she does not meet the constitutional requirement that presidents and vice presidents be native-born citizens.

There is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is Hispanic, but his state has only five electoral votes, and the Republicans would have a field day with his record running the Department of Energy during the Clinton years.

Also thought to have been discarded as a possibility is former Gen. Wesley Clark, whose military career could help boost the ticket's national-security credentials. His sole political experience was this year's lackluster campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Of course there are Florida's U.S. Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson, but neither seems to have passed the preliminary screenings that reportedly have left Kerry with a handful of unexceptional choices who don't meet any of the three criteria:

—Richard Gephardt has been a congressman from Missouri with ties to organized labor, but there is little evidence he can appeal outside traditional Democratic constituencies. That means that, despite his 28 years representing a St. Louis district, it is not clear he could deliver Missouri, one of the key battleground states.

—John Edwards, a one-term North Carolina senator with good looks and strong campaign skills, was Kerry's major primary competitor. But the two men have some major policy and personal differences. Even more than Gephardt, the odds are against Edwards being able to bring his home state into the Democratic column.

—Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who fits the criteria in that Iowa is a battleground state and his relationship with Kerry is strong. Yet, Iowa's seven electoral votes are ones the Democrats should not have to use their only trump card to secure. His lack of any foreign-policy background makes him a more likely candidate for secretary of agriculture than being a heartbeat away from commander in chief.

It's easy to see why Kerry nurtured his dream of persuading McCain to join him for so long: He really didn't want to think about the realistic alternatives that now face him.

Of course, Kerry could surprise us with a pick out of left field who makes sense for another reason. Given his reported choices, that might not be a bad idea.

Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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