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Veep Watch: Am I at the Edge of My Seat? Hardly

The political world is in a frenzy about one major topic: Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) vice presidential running mate.

Will it be Sen. John Edwards (N.C.)? Or maybe Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is one of the few veep contenders who didn’t vie with Kerry for the Democratic presidential nomination? [IMGCAP(1)]

Kerry has also asked friends about retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (Mo.), even about former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Could it be one of them? Or how about a real dark horse?

The veep buzz is the cocktail party chatter du jour. If you are introduced to somebody and don’t know what to say to them, you probably ask, “So who do you think Kerry is going to pick for his running mate?”

If you are one of those really, really cool inside-the-Beltway types — the kind of person who gets invited to movie premieres or tapings of “The West Wing” — you don’t even have to ask the question. All you do is look at the person you’ve just met, cock your head slightly and, raising your left eyebrow, ask inquisitively, “Well?”

If the other person is really cool, too, they’ll know exactly what question you’re asking about.

Democrats close to their party’s nominee say that an announcement is likely sometime in the next few weeks, but most insiders expect it to come shortly after the July Fourth holiday. So it’s about time that I write yet another Kerry veep column, right?

Wrong. I’m not gonna do it.

Don’t even ask me who Kerry will pick. Or whether I think he absolutely, positively, unquestionably must pick Edwards.

Don’t ask whether Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) could be tapped. Or whether Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) or — let me float my own idea here — Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is likely to be picked.

Don’t ask me because I don’t care. And I don’t care because, in terms of the election, it probably won’t matter.

Sure, when Kerry announces his pick it will be front page news. In all likelihood, Democratic activists will cheer it, some declaring that the selection will guarantee a Democratic victory in the fall.

Republicans, on the other hand, will pan it, either because it allegedly confirms that Kerry is a liberal, or that he is a phony flip-flopper who makes his decisions based on short-term political calculations. Or, more likely, both.

In fact, we all know that running mates rarely decide elections. When voters go to the polls in November, the choice will be either to re-elect Bush or to fire him. And even if Kerry is in the voters’ equation at all, his running mate almost certainly won’t be.

Yes, I know, Lyndon Johnson helped deliver Texas — and the White House — to John F. Kennedy in 1960, and with the 2004 election likely to be close, the same sort of thing could happen this year. In a nail-biter, anything — and everything — separates winning and losing.

Maybe what I find distasteful about all of the veep-watching is that it has a celebrity-gazing quality about it.

Oh, look, there’s John Edwards. Squeal. Pant. He might be picked for vice president. Ohmygosh, it’s Tom Vilsack!! I’m so excited.

And then there are the truly inane questions that normally intelligent members of the national media ask of candidates. “Senator Edwards, has Senator Kerry asked you to be his nominee? Do you want the job?”

As if Edwards, Gephardt or Vilsack were going to break the news that he is under consideration or has been selected as the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president. Kerry would just love to hear that, wouldn’t he?

This town lives on rumors and on speculation, and the VP watch is all about that. People talk about which potential running mates have passed a security clearance and whom Kerry is meeting with. Much of the buzz is third-hand speculation by people who don’t really know what’s going on.

If I were Kerry, I’d set up a “private” meeting with Sen. Enzi just to screw with the heads of all the political insiders who have nothing better to do than track the running-mate selection process.

Then I’d have friends drop hints that adding Enzi to the ticket would prove that Kerry is intent on “expanding the number of states in play” and plans to take his candidacy right into the Republican base. (Do you think Cheney can hold the state for Bush with Enzi on the Democratic ticket?)

Vice presidents certainly can matter in office, and it’s not that I don’t care at all who Kerry picks. But I can wait a few more weeks, and I can be certain that unless the selection is Mike Enzi, the media hype will be excessive anyway.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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