Returning from a prolonged vacation that included an Iron Maiden concert and two NASCAR races, it's good to see the Chairman picking up the slack in my absence.
It's been awhile since the first Veepstakes, so a second installment is long overdue.
On the GOP side, the frontrunner spot is a literal toss-up between at least half a dozen individuals, ranging from current or former Bush cabinet officials to complete Washington outsiders to (gulp) a Democrat. But in the spirit of competition and ruffling feathers, here is our best shot at assessing the field:
1. Bobby Jindal: Since taking McCain up on an invite out to his Sedona ranch, the uber-young (36) governor of Louisiana has reportedly been at or near the top of virtually everyone's list. The pros? He's half McCain's age, is a minority, has executive experience, has a reformist streak and is a complete Washington outsider. The biggest con? He's maybe too young -- 9 years younger than the Changemaker.
2. Condoleeza Rice: Condi is pro-choice (concededly, an enormous hurdle), and her nomination will ensure that Obama and the Dems will scream "George Bush 44" from here 'til November. However, McCain is likely tied to the surge in Iraq no matter who he chooses as his VP, and given Condi's broad appeal across racial, gender and even party lines, McCain and Condi on the same ticket is perhaps the worst-case scenario for Dems. Naming Condi as veep would create a ticket with dynamic cross-party appeal and could potentially turn the electoral map on its head.
3. Tim Pawlenty: Young (47), popular, good-looking governor from a swing state (Minnesota) who has stuck by McCain through thick and thin. Especially given that McCain deeply values loyalty, there isn't a whole lot to dislike.
4. Charlie Crist: Not much to say about the governor of Florida that hasn't been said already. Some on the right aren't sold on Crist's conservative credentials, but he'd sew up his home state, a clear necessity.
5. Joe Lieberman: At the end of the day, this is McCain's decision, and there are few people he likes or respects more than his longtime Senate colleague. And adding Lieberman would make a powerful statement about the kind of administration McCain intends to run. The focus necessarily would shift toward Obama and force the Pope of Hope to answer his laughably empty platitudes about bipartisanship and new politics. However, the blowback from conservatives would be enormous -- putting aside national security issues, Lieberman is fundamentally at odds with just about every plank in the domestic Republican platform.
6. Tom Ridge: Jindal, Rice and Lieberman are intriguing, high-risk, high-reward choices, while Crist, Pawlenty and Romney are simply safe bets with more upside than down. Ridge falls into the former category. He strengthens McCain's main appeal (national security), yet, like Condi, is pro-choice, a potentially lethal issue for McCain to dance around, given the mistrust many conservatives still have of his willingness to reach across the aisle with frequency. However, Ridge is deeply respected across party lines and puts Pennsylvania in play -- and if Obama coughs up the Keystone State, it will be extraordinarily hard for him to win.
7. Michael Bloomberg: Another risky, intriguing pick. On one hand, Bloomberg is stridently opposed to the Senior Senator's Iraq strategy, has been courted to some degree by Obama, and noisily left the GOP several years ago. A Bloomberg choice would be greeted with howls from many conservatives. On the other hand, however, he could (don't laugh) potentially put New York in play and likely tip New Jersey -- a huge electoral haul -- McCain's way; like Romney, address McCain's weakness on economic issues; and perhaps most importantly, he and McCain have a genuine affinity for one another.
8. Mitt Romney: In many ways, the anti-Lieberman. Conservatives would largely applaud (despite his utterly transparent phoniness), he would toe the GOP line on most issues, he addresses McCain's biggest weakness (economic issues), and McCain genuinely hates his guts. If this is McCain's choice (which it is), he won't pick a guy he can't stand.
Other notables: former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, former Ohio congressman and Bush OMB director Rob Portman, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens.