White House ’08: A tough choice for McCain

Analysis by Chris Graham

Don’t believe it when you read that John McCain hasn’t made up his mind on a running mate. That said, I’m willing to bet that McCain wishes he wouldn’t have to go public on this tomorrow, given that he’s pretty much damned whatever way he goes in his Veepstakes.

The logical choice would seem to be Mitt Romney, but that’s logical to me, a moderate Democrat who obviously doesn’t know the inner workings of the Republican Party very well. Romney ran well during the primaries, and was effectively the second choice of nomination voters on the GOP side, but the social conservatives that I talk to regularly tell me that he would not play well among those in the base, as we have come to think of the white evangelical voter set. He would do well to please fiscal conservatives, but McCain has already placated them on the tax issue to the point where I don’t know that he needs to shore up anything there. You ask me, and I say Romney shouldn’t be your choice.

Which brings us to Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who was the actual #2 choice of GOP voters in the nomination season, if only because he lingered on and on and on long after it was clear that he was not at all in danger of being able to mount a serious challenge to McCain. But he has a rightful claim, well, sorta, to being the second most popular candidate on the Republican side this year, and he definitely pleases my social-conservative friends. He also makes it hard for McCain to have any real hope of reaching out to whatever disaffected Hillary voters there still are given his extreme (in the minds of his critics, anyway) positions on women’s issues. Like Romney, there’s upside and downside, and I think the downside is a bit too weighty for a reasonable person’s comfort level.

Joe Lieberman, to be sure, gives the McCain ticket a chance to reach out to Hillary voters, though I’m not sure there are many people who consider themselves Democrats who think of Lieberman at all positively these days. Liberman would have been a better choice had Barack Obama gone with, say, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine or another VP candidate who is outside of the Washington sphere, by buttressing a strong national-security ticket. His value as a reach-out to moderates and Dems being limited, I can’t imagine him being on the short list anymore, much less the nominee.

I think we can deal with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor here together. Pawlenty, at 47, and Cantor, at 45, would both be fine choices if the McCain team hadn’t decided a couple of months ago to make the November election a referendum on Obama’s age and experience. So it would be hard to send out a Pawlenty or a Cantor to serve as the attack dog on age and experience considering that they’re either the same age or younger than the guy that they’re trying to paint with that wide brush.

Now that I think about it, maybe it’s true that McCain hasn’t settled on a choice yet. It should be an advantage to be able to go second, but I think what we’re seeing is that it’s probably actually more difficult in the end, in part because you know what the other side has done, and in part because you know what the other side has done, and thus everybody assumes that you should be able to outflank them as a result.

The expectations game can really bust your chops, can’t it?

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