As the names of a seemingly endless number of would-be vice presidential running mates in both parties circulate this summer, the one thing you can be sure of is that there will be an increasing effort by groups to make certain some of those mentioned are not selected.
[IMGCAP(1)]In a signed opinion piece last week, Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart warned presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) about selecting former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) as his running mate. The reason: Nunn helped lead the fight against allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military and was the force behind the disastrous dont ask, dont tell compromise.
If Obama taps Nunn, he could end up adding gay men and lesbians to the list of disgruntled Democrats. They might not vote for [Arizona Sen. John] McCain, but they might very well stay home, Capehart writes. The editorial writer makes that assertion even though, in the same piece, he notes that Nunn recently said that dont ask, dont tell should be revisited.
Frankly, the assertion that gays liberal and Democratic gays, that is may sit out the presidential race if Nunn is chosen by Obama is difficult to take seriously.
Given Obamas record in Illinois and in the Senate, his overall ideology and the effusive endorsement of him earlier this month by the Human Rights Campaign, the nations largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights group, its absurd to suggest that politically interested gays who otherwise agree with Obama and share his values would withhold their vote if he selected Nunn to join his ticket.
But of course, that opinion piece wasnt meant to be political analysis. Rather, it was an attempt to muscle Obama away from Nunn as a running mate to create even the impression that selecting the former Georgia Senator might create trouble for Obama. And avoiding trouble is the first rule for picking a running mate.
Youd think that Obamas position on gays in the military might be a little more important than his running mates. And you might even think that a potential running mate would be evaluated on more than a single issue to see whether he or she could serve the president, and the country, in an important and useful way.
You can bet that sometime soon conservatives and some people in the pro-life community will throw down the gauntlet and warn their eventual nominee, McCain, that he better not select former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as his running mate.
Ridge, its certainly true, was more pro-choice than pro-life, and social conservatives surely would prefer a different partner for McCain. Republicans will stay home if Ridge is picked as McCains running mate, we will be informed by conservative leaders who probably wont have compelling data to support their point but will rely on the same kind of scenario that Capehart made in the Post.
Then there are the likely complaints that will come from supporters of Israel at the mention of Obama possibly considering adding outgoing Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) to the Democratic ticket.
Hagel, who served in the Army in Vietnam and received two Purple Hearts, has the kind of credentials (including an extensive business background and a Republican pedigree) that would play right into Obamas message of bringing people together. But the pro- Israel community doesnt regard Hagel merely as unhelpful. It sees him as a problem, and you can bet Democratic activists will attempt to steer Obama away from the Nebraskan.
There are, of course, good reasons to eliminate certain names and to continue to consider others. Obama already has problems in the pro-Israel and Jewish communities, so adding Hagel to his ticket would severely aggravate an existing problem.
Geography, age, experience, foreign policy or military expertise, gender, ideology, party and even ethnicity are all factors that both campaigns will consider, even if only in passing. But both Obama and McCain should think more broadly about the message their selections will send.
Both presidential hopefuls are running on a message of change. Obama talks specifically about bringing Americans together, while McCain talks more about changing the way Washington, D.C., works. What better way to kick off the key phase of their campaigns then to pick a running mate who displays their dedication to their message?
For Obama, that certainly doesnt mean selecting former Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) to make working-class Democrats feel more comfortable or even Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to unify the party. Instead, it means picking a Republican, such as Hagel, or possibly a Democrat who has been politically successful in a Republican state. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana are obvious examples.
No, they probably couldnt deliver their states to Obama, but thats not the point. With the first truly big decision that Obama would make, he would be showing his seriousness about his fundamental message by picking someone who epitomizes it.
For McCain, picking a conservative is a no-brainer. It just isnt necessarily the best choice. Its too predictable and reeks too much of traditional politics.
Like Obama, McCain has the opportunity to show with his first major decision that he wants to change the way things work. Picking Connecticut Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman certainly would do that, but Ridge or a quirkier pick, such as former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, would also send the same message.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.