In less than 24 hours, Sen. McCain will announce his running mate at a rally in the swing state of Ohio.
Earlier this summer, I was upset at McCain's campaign, even titling a particular post "Team Maverick begins to misfire." But McCain has -- for better or for worse -- limited his access to the press (who gleefully jump on every slip of the tongue and immediately blast out a story), stayed on message, hit Obama hard on everything from his voting record to his poor judgment to, yes, his association with unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers, and evened the contest to a virtual tie as the month of August comes to a close. In addition, McCain turned in a remarkable, forceful performance at the Saddleback Forum, endearing himself to millions of evangelical voters who were previously mistrustful of his legendary maverick streak.
Seventeen days ago, I made a case for the choice of Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat-turned-independent, and Al Gore's running mate in 2000. Although a McCain-Lieberman ticket could redraw the electoral map, McCain admittedly runs the risk of alienating a huge number of conservative voters who have rallied behind him in recent weeks. Two months ago, conventional wisdom held that McCain would be the one struggling to unite a fractured party behind him.
It now seems that task is Obama's.
Thus, Govs. Tim Pawlenty -- whose political acumen has been compared favorably to President Clinton and whose brand of conservatism hearks back to the "Contract with America" days -- and Mitt Romney are now the clear favorites.
If Condoleeza Rice and Sarah Palin are out of the running (and it appears that they are), I genuinely hope that McCain picks Pawlenty. The popular 47-year-old governor from Minnesota offers virtually no drawbacks (other than his relative youth), and his list of positives are striking: The first in his family to go to college. Immensely popular governor of a swing state that Obama badly needs to win. Strong conservative credentials. A quick wit. And perhaps most importantly, Pawlenty hails from a legitimate working-class background.
At this stage of the game in such a close race, the running mate's background is as crucial as anything. And the choice of Romney -- while not a bad one -- would open up the class-warfare floodgates. Democrats will happily seize on Romney's past venture capitalist endeavors and his willingness to outsource jobs, as well as his enormous personal wealth (he financed his own presidential campaign). They'll try to paint a McCain/Romney ticket as a pair of rich white guys who are out of step with the economic struggles many other Americans face.
Additionally, McCain relentlessly hammered Romney during the primaries as a flip-flopper, calling him "the real candidate of change." (Zing!) Although Romney has been a tremendous surrogate for Team Maverick, perhaps that role is the way he offers the most value.
I don't believe Mitt Romney is particularly principled, nor do I know that he stands for much of anything. I do believe, however, that he'd be an excellent president. He's a sort of anti-Dubya. But at this point, a "two rich white guys" ticket doesn't sound like a winner in November, particularly against an opponent who has sounded the populist -- one could even argue socialist -- bell more than once. Such rally cries would be far more pervasive during September and October if McCain chooses Romney.
Of course, there are other, equally compelling reasons to pick the Minnesota governor -- Pawlenty has been in McCain's corner ever since McCain announced his candidacy; Romney has been a supporter for about four months. Pawlenty is a true-blue conservative; Romney is a flip-flopper. Pawlenty is a fresh face and 47; Romney is not and is in his early 60s. Pawlenty offers McCain a clear electoral advantage; Romney's advantage in Michigan and the mountain west is somewhat speculative.
In sum, however, Pawlenty looks to be a much better choice at this stage of the game than does Romney.
I hope it's McCain-Pawlenty. I think it will be.