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Why Go for McCain? The Democrats Have Lots of VP Prospects

One of the more intriguing conversations in and around the Beltway these days has to do with who will be Sen. John Kerry’s running mate.

Without missing a beat or a reporter’s deadline, I have offered up many names of my favorite Democrats, from Members of Congress to prominent and successful businesspeople. Most, if not all, of my suggested candidates are Democrats. And since no one is actually seeking my advice, I am going to continue to advocate for a strong, balanced ticket and an equally strong national platform. [IMGCAP(1)]

But I have to admit the talk about Kerry potentially choosing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — another highly decorated war hero and national leader — for the No. 2 slot on the Democratic ticket has become too loud to ignore.

Like most political chatter, this one began on the cable shows and made it to prime time in less than a month. It is being fueled by some of my party’s top elected leaders. Although McCain has repeatedly said he would not accept the position, this has not stopped the intense media chatter about what it would mean to go with such an outside-the-box choice.

After my initial reaction to the news stories — namely, sarcasm — I decided to reach out to some of my inside-the-Beltway friends to try to figure out their rationale. The bottom line was that they want to win badly in 2004 — and they believe that McCain could help Kerry defeat Bush.

I cautioned them to hold their powder for now and accept McCain at his word: that he’s “a loyal Republican.”

Kerry has time to select someone who would not only make a great President — which has to be the most important criteria in selecting someone — but also someone who shares his party’s values on important national and international issues.

Like most Americans, I admire John McCain’s resiliency, boldness and continued willingness to stand outside the narrow confines of partisan politics to articulate views on important issues of the day. On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) alluded to these characteristics when he suggested that the selection of McCain would signify that Kerry was placing “national interest over partisan politics.”

Maybe. But, what would it say about the Democratic Party? Have we run out of steam? Have we stopped producing leaders like Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Mondale, Ferraro, Clinton, Gore and Lieberman? The answer, clearly, is no.

The incessant speculation about McCain presents another big problem: It backhandedly suggests that Democrats are weak on national security. Yes, McCain could shore up some of our party’s rough spots and could give us a stronger and bolder national security platform. But to those who believe that McCain is the answer, I say this: What about former Sen. Bob Kerrey (Neb.), who has recently made a strong impact as a member of the 9/11 Commission? Or Gen. Wesley Clark, who had some impressive moments on the 2004 campaign trail? Either could go head-to-head with Vice President Cheney on national security and homeland defense.

The truth is that the Democrats in 2004 have more potential national stars to chose from than ever before. In addition to national heroes like Kerrey and Clark, Kerry can select from a strong pool of governors. My favorites are Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Janet Napalitano of Arizona. Each has courageously piloted their state through bouts of economic turbulence. They are also credible voices on a range of domestic issues that have been overshadowed by the war in Iraq.

Such issues, despite the low profile, remain important: Voters are still worried about the economy, health care and the environment, which suggests that this election may be fought on political terrain beyond just national security.

Alternately, Kerry could tap some of his former 2004 adversaries, such as Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), a long-time favorite of dyed-in-the-wool labor Democrats such as myself. He could also go South and pick up Sens. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.) or Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

The point is that my personal list of favorites — like every other list I have seen in print — is diverse, potentially appealing to centrist Democrats, progressives, as well as independents.

Back in 2000, when Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore formally solicited ideas from his staff and key advisers about the selection of a vice presidential candidate, I remember asking him, “What will the selection say about you?” It spoke volumes about Gore’s leadership and vision that he selected Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), a centrist Democrat and early critic of President Clinton’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky. It was a historic choice that provided the campaign with a much-needed boost across the country.

Ultimately, Kerry will make a tough and revealing decision after careful review of his list and after hours of discussion with advisers, family and friends. When Kerry is ready to share his choice with the general public, many of us will be waiting with hope and anticipation for the future.

I know how badly Democrats want to win this presidential election. But I hope it isn’t so badly that that they toss away our party’s values and principles in the process.

Donna L. Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grassroots political consulting firm.

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