This line of attack should come naturally to McCain, who has spent much of his political life attacking congressional perks and “earmarks.” And it’s a line of reasoning that should resonate with voters the closer they get to November. After all, is McCain more like Bush or is Obama more like the other Democrats in Congress? The answer to that question favors the GOP.
4) Picking a Veep
The importance of vice-presidential nominees tends to be overrated. But in McCain’s case it will have a huge symbolic value since it will be the major action he takes between now and November to give the voters a sense of how he will govern. If he picks a traditional Republican or anyone associated with the Bush administration, voters will assume he’s traditional and a Bushie, too. And he will likely lose.
In truth, he shouldn’t pick any of the commonly mentioned governors (Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Florida’s Charlie Crist, Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty, etc.) because it will be hard to argue that Obama is too inexperienced if McCain has picked a running mate even more so. And all of McCain’s primary opponents are either too flawed or too conservative to help the presumptive Republican nominee pick up a state he wouldn’t otherwise carry. (Fred Thompson might have been an interesting choice before he turned out to be, well, Fred Thompson.)
That leaves McCain two paths to energize his candidacy. He can either choose an “outsider” woman or a Democrat/Independent as a way to demonstrate his independence. The problem in each case is finding one who would help the ticket but who is also pro-life. Republicans Carly Fiorina (best known for her leadership of Hewlett Packard) and Meg Whitman (former CEO of eBay) might fit the bill and would be intriguing candidates. But it would be a risk to pick a running mate with no governmental experience. There are a handful of Democrats who are pro-life — such as Colorado governor Bill Ritter, Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, and former Indiana Congressman Tim Roemer — but would any consider an offer across the aisle from McCain? Unlikely.
If none will, McCain faces a dilemma: does he risk alienating his party’s right wing by turning to, say, pro-choice, Independent New York mayor Mike Bloomberg — probably the best selection from an electoral standpoint? That’s why this decision may well be the defining moment for the McCain candidacy. If McCain uses his veep choice to move right and stay traditional, Obama remains the only candidate of change in the race. And this year, that’s what voters want.
BARACK OBAMA VS. JOHN MCCAIN
Odds: even | this past week: even
To read the “Presidential Tote Board” blog, go to thePhoenix.com/toteboard. Steven Stark can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.