Speculation has swirled recently that John McCain could name his #2 within a matter of days, perhaps even before the commencement of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics at the end of next week. Such speculation has swirled around the individuals who have long been figured to be under consideration -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Ohio congressman and Bush OMB director Rob Portman and former McCain rival Mitt Romney.
But McCain must understand something. In the current election year, he is the clear underdog. It is only because of his maverick reputation and foreign policy guru/war hero status that he stands any sort of shot.
For whatever reason, the Pope of Hope has the electorate mobilized. He has drawn in young voters, the left half of the Democratic Party, the previously apathetic, and those with IQs under 80. McCain must make a splash. Assuming Obama doesn't pick Sen. Clinton, McCain could perhaps make his biggest splash by picking a woman. And in a column yesterday, Dick Morris noted the considerable issues that Obama is having pulling in women -- traditionally a demographic that is solidly Democratic.
This is not to say that Romney, et al. don't have at least nominal upside. They just don't have enough to make much of a difference.
In this corner of the internet, McCain is encouraged to move outside the box. The choice of Romney or Portman would be especially disappointing. It's effectively 3rd-and-15 for McCain, and picking either of those men would be akin to running a draw play up the middle. The choice of Pawlenty would be similar to a check-down pass to a running back -- with good execution and a bit of luck, a first down and another life is a possibility. But McCain needs to throw the ball down the middle of the field -- with either Condoleeza Rice or Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- or take a shot at the end zone -- with either Joe Lieberman or Michael Bloomberg.
(To be sure, conservatives won't be thrilled. But where will they go? Obama is perhaps the most liberal politician in America, so an "evangelical" exodus to the Changemaker simply won't happen. No matter who he picks as his VP, the Senior Senator will remain staunchly pro-defense, anti-abortion and have an originalist judicial philosophy.)
Concededly, Bloomberg appears at least intrigued by the Pope of Hope, and although he and McCain are friends, it is likely that his anti-Iraq stance and recent noisy withdrawal from the Republican Party would take him out of the running. Lieberman, however, would send a message about the type of administration McCain intends to run. Although the Howard Dean wing of the Democratic Party would yawn, the choice of Lieberman might well resonate with disaffected fans of the Clintons. (I'd like to hear the Chairman's thoughts on this, by the way. While perhaps not a card-carrying member of Joe's fan club, I know he likes him.) It is exactly these people, as well as soccer moms, the elderly and Reagan Democrats who feel alienated by the Changemaker's elitism and extremism, that McCain must win over.
The choice of Rice or Palin would be even better. Rice is highly educated, eminently qualified and is deeply respected across party lines. And let's get real: Condi is a woman, and she's a minority. In a race against the first black candidate for the presidency, this will be an enormous asset. She also will help McCain exploit Obama's apparent problem drawing in female voters. She would reinforce McCain's centrist appeal, as well as his foreign policy credentials. A McCain/Condi ticket would be the Democrats' worst nightmare, as it could potentially turn the entire electoral map on its head. Back in March, an Albany University poll showed a McCain/Condi ticket within the margin of error when matched up against an Obama/Clinton ticket -- in New York.
Palin would be McCain's second-best option. Like Condi, she can help drive a wedge between Obama and centrist female voters. She is a relative unknown to the rest of the electorate, but is by all accounts magnanimous and an incredibly gifted politician. At 44, she is even younger than the High Priest of Hyde Park, and would be a dynamic #2. Perhaps equally as important is the fact that she is a complete Washington outsider.
It's clear that McCain is the underdog and cannot play it safe. Doing so will result in a long night in early November. Romney, Portman, Pawlenty, Tom Ridge, Haley Barbour and Charlie Crist each have upside, but McCain gains little by choosing any of these men. He must throw conventional wisdom out the window, throw caution to the wind and go beyond the normal universe of candidates. I'm with Dick Morris: McCain needs to choose a woman. And that choice must be Rice or Palin. If not, his chances of winning are slim.