For Kerry aides, McCain would fit bill as running mate
Naming Republican seen as potent lure to undecided voters
By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff, 4/6/2004
WASHINGTON -- The great parlor game inside the Beltway right now focuses on whom John F. Kerry will pick to be his running mate, and the game rages no more fiercely than inside Kerry's own campaign headquarters.
If there is a consensus among Kerry aides about who would be the boldest and most potent pick, it is Senator John S. McCain of Arizona -- a Republican.
While Kerry has talked about his search with few people other than his wife, campaign manager, and the head of his search committee, Washington power broker James A. Johnson, many high-level staff members believe -- based on Kerry's past and recent comments -- that McCain will get serious consideration.
The other name heard most frequently is that of Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who offered a staunch defense of Kerry last week during a CNN interview. During the primaries, however, Kerry publicly questioned Edwards's ability to deliver Southern votes in a general election.
Not only could McCain help Kerry pick up crucial Electoral College votes in a pivotal Southwestern battleground state, but the former Vietnam prisoner of war would also be a staunch ally for what is expected to be a fierce battle with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. In addition, his selection would provide powerful thematic lines both for the fall campaign and the potential Kerry presidency.
The union of a Democrat and a Republican "would make good on the president's promise to be a uniter, not a divider," said one Kerry aide, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity. Such a ticket could offer Americans the prospect of a reduction in the partisanship that has increasingly gripped Capitol Hill during the past decade, as well as a return to the national unity experienced in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
Above all, the aides hypothesize that by choosing McCain as a running mate, Kerry would energize the election, create a weeks-long buzz in the media, and, perhaps most importantly, attract the support of swing and independent voters from both parties. Surveys earlier this year showed that many of the people who supported Howard Dean's insurgent candidacy for the Democratic nomination were the same "McCainiacs" who helped McCain win the 2000 Republican primary in New Hampshire against Bush.
"The narrative fits the country right now," a Kerry aide said of a potential Kerry-McCain partnership, while not ruling out other potential tandems and asserting that the decision is Kerry's alone.
McCain has said he would not run with Kerry and has vowed to campaign for Bush, but last month he renewed speculation about a potential matchup when he was asked on ABC's "Good Morning America" whether he would consider running with Kerry. He replied, "Obviously, I would entertain it." Democratic Party rules do not outlaw -- nor specifically address -- nominating a candidate from another party, a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman said.
Those within the Kerry camp acknowledge that picking McCain as a running mate would be fraught with political peril, both from within the Democratic Party as well as from the Republicans. McCain, for example, opposes abortion, in contrast to the official Democratic position in favor of abortion rights. He said in the ABC interview, "It's impossible to imagine the Democratic Party seeking a pro-life, free-trading, nonprotectionist, deficit hawk." McCain chastised Kerry last year for voting against $87 billion in supplemental funding for the Iraq war, which McCain supported.
Meanwhile, a defection by McCain would probably trigger an even harsher critique of his record from Bush and the GOP than the senator faced in February 2000, after he surprised Bush with an 18-point victory in New Hampshire. The then-Texas governor and his supporters responded with a withering assault that, among other things, portrayed McCain as a brainwashed Manchurian candidate after his wartime confinement. Inconsistencies with Kerry, such as their split on the congressional resolution authorizing war with Iraq, would also be fair game for criticism.
To date, the only definitive word from Kerry about his search was his announcement early last month that Johnson, the former head of the Fannie Mae mortgage company, would conduct it. Since then, Kerry has talked little about the process with anyone other than his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, his campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, his Senate chief of staff, David McKean, and his brother, Boston attorney Cameron Kerry.
Yesterday was typical in that regard. Reporters at a Kerry economic round table asked him about McCain.
"I'm not commenting," Kerry responded.
Did that mean he was not ruling McCain out?
"I'm not commenting," he repeated.
The New York Times reported Sunday that Johnson had already spoken with four potential picks, Edwards, Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, and Governors Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Tom Vilsack of Iowa. One other potential choice, Senator Bob Graham of Florida, told the newspaper that he had not been called. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California was quoted as urging Kerry to choose a running mate by May 1 to more effectively combat the Bush campaign, and Representative Bob Menendez of New Jersey said that Johnson had asked for his opinion of Edwards, Gephardt, Richardson, and Vilsack.
Johnson and Cahill spoke with Kerry about the process on Sunday in Boston and then all three flew together on the campaign's charter jet to Washington. During the flight, Kerry and Johnson jointly held open the Times and pointed to the pictures in the story about their search, speaking for an extended time about the one showing Kerry clasping hands with Richardson.
While there is speculation Kerry will name his running mate within the next eight weeks, aides believe the search is still at a relatively early stage. From what they can glean from snippets of conversation with Kerry, Democrats on Capitol Hill, and others, Kerry and Johnson are now engaged in a period of outreach, following protocol by speaking with people such as Pelosi and Menendez so party leaders feel they had an opportunity to weigh in on the process.
The focus on McCain is fueled by the belief that he and Kerry, 60, have a strong personal, political, and military connection, best exemplified for the staff by a Roll Call picture that Kerry has copied and placed in his various offices in Washington and Boston. It shows him and the 67-year-old McCain walking along a Capitol hallway, Kerry with his arm draped around his colleague's shoulder.
The aides note that despite their political differences, Kerry and McCain both voted against the tax cuts proposed by the Bush administration, opposed administration plans to drill for oil in Alaska, jointly presented a proposal to raise automobile fuel-efficiency standards, and worked together on tobacco-control legislation.
Most significantly, the two Vietnam warriors share a kinship expressed throughout the years, such as when McCain refused to campaign against Kerry in his 1996 reelection campaign with Republican William F. Weld, and when Kerry organized a letter in 2000 rebutting Bush's campaign criticism of McCain.
I think this is a very interesting and appealing idea. What this country needs most right now is UNITY and INTEGRITY. I disagree with several of McCain's political views, but I find his integrity unimpeachable.
A Kerry/McCain Ticket gets MY vote! :thumbup: