Rothenberg: Veep Choices: Looking for the Longer Shots

Posted February 18, 2004 at 9:47am

I know I’m a little late in beginning to look at possible vice presidential choices for Sen. John Kerry. It seems as if anyone with access to a Web site has already weighed in with a list. But it’s still only February, and the Massachusetts Democrat isn’t likely to make his selection for months, so I figure it isn’t too late to enter the fray.

First, I’m not going to dwell on the three obvious names — Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) or retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

[IMGCAP(1)] Edwards’ Southern style and working-class background would be an asset to Kerry, as would Gephardt’s Missouri roots and background and Clark’s military experience and outsider standing.

Any of those three would bring something to the Democratic ticket. But everyone knows that, so there’s not much point wasting time on them.

Second, anyone who thinks Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) will be Kerry’s running mate is an idiot. So I’m not wasting time on that silly scenario.

Third, good running mates generally bring one of two things with them. Either they can deliver their state’s Electoral College votes, or they can bring what I’d call the “wow” factor — the ability to get voters to view the presidential nominee in a new, appealing way.

Fourth, there probably is no such thing as a “perfect” running mate. Everyone has a blemish or a question mark. But that doesn’t mean that all running mates are created equal.

Suggestion No. 1: Sam Nunn. The 65-year-old former Georgia Senator could become John Kerry’s Dick Cheney — a mature, savvy, wise man with a reputation for moderation and foreign policy/national defense expertise.

Can Nunn carry Georgia? I’m not sure. But his ability to talk about military preparedness is unquestioned, and the former Armed Services chairman could answer expected GOP charges that Kerry did not support weapons systems in Congress.

The differences between the Kerry and Nunn records could prove to be a problem for the Democratic ticket. For example, Nunn, a deficit hawk in the Senate, supported cuts in Medicare to balance the budget, and he backed a number of weapons systems that other Democrats opposed. Still, like Kerry, Nunn opposed the first Persian Gulf War.

Suggestion No. 2: Jim Hunt. The former governor of North Carolina has been elected four times, and he has a reputation as a Southern moderate. He left office in 2000 with good poll numbers and a reputation as a successful chief executive.

Hunt probably wouldn’t help Kerry carry North Carolina (nor would Edwards), but he could still be an asset. He is not a Washington, D.C.-type, and his Southern background might make the ticket more acceptable to moderates outside of the South.

The fact that Hunt was defeated by Sen. Jesse Helms (R) might only add to his appeal among grassroots Democrats, who still see Helms as the Republican Darth Vader and wouldn’t mind righting another wrong by electing Hunt to the nation’s second most important job.

Hunt, at 66 years old, would add maturity and executive experience to the Democratic ticket. While editorial writers might like the idea of Hunt as a running mate, his selection wouldn’t have a big “wow” factor.

Suggestion No. 3: Jay Rockefeller. Rockefeller, 66, is a four-term Senator from West Virginia, and he just might be able to carry his home state, which went for George W. Bush in 2000.

Rockefeller is vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and he serves on Veterans’ Affairs, Foreign Relations and other committees. His areas of expertise, which include health care, would make him a terrific addition to the Kerry ticket.

One of the West Virginia Senator’s downsides, of course, is his name. Kerry already is seen as a Northeast Brahmin and doesn’t need to run with someone who has a family name that is synonymous with wealth and privilege.

Like Cheney, who recently turned 63, all three of these Democrats are “older.” Their age is a double-edge sword, bringing both advantages and disadvantages. But Nunn, Hunt and Rockefeller all deserve a long look by Kerry, even if the nominee ultimately picks someone else at the end of the day.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report