Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Washington's Latest Dance Craze: The No. 2 Step ; the Process of Choosing a Vice President Throws Candidates and Contenders into an Elaborate Courtship

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Washington's Latest Dance Craze: The No. 2 Step ; the Process of Choosing a Vice President Throws Candidates and Contenders into an Elaborate Courtship

Article excerpt

The vice-presidential sweepstakes is perhaps one of the least understood and most complicated of Washington rituals.

There's a flurry of trial balloons, leaked short lists, and the dispatching of envoys to search high and low for a suitable mate. Even decisionmakers seldom know what they're doing until the last minute.

This year, if the coming fall race is as tight as pundits believe, the value added from a strong running mate could be more important than ever.

"Because this is such a close race, the vice president may be more consequential," says political scientist Steven Schier at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

For example, polls this week indicate a ticket teaming Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain would easily best Vice President Al Gore.

Mr. McCain has repeatedly said he is not seeking the vice presidency and would not accept an offer from Mr. Bush. The two are, however, scheduled to meet in one week to discuss "campaign strategy" - which has given rise to inevitable speculation.

The courtship is complicated, the calculus dizzying, the matches endless. The goal is picking as perfect a combination as possible.

"The first thing a campaign has to figure out is if they are doing a national or a state strategy," says Mr. Schier. The seldom- used state strategy targets running mates who could pull in big swing states. The national strategy aims to match two candidates with the broadest possible appeal.

Recent history suggests geography is not as important as it once was - after all, Bill Clinton, a Southern governor, successfully teamed up with Mr. Gore, a Southern senator, to win the White House for two consecutive terms.

Perhaps the oldest trick in the running-mate selection book is the public courting of contenders who have little chance of actually being tapped.

Campaigns float names of popular politicians in a region in an effort to gain votes there. The same strategy is sometimes applied to special-interest groups.

In a new twist on that technique, Gore this week tried to broaden his appeal beyond the Democratic Party, by saying he wouldn't rule out picking a Republican. …

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