Veep Choice Could be Tricky for Gore

July 7, 2008 - 7:25 PM

( - Vice President Al Gore, fresh from securing his party's nomination on Southern Tuesday, now turns to the trickier task of choosing a running mate.

Unlike Republican nominee George W. Bush, Gore does not need salve the wounds of a bitterly contested primary fight with his choice: the Democrats emerged from the primaries with a clear-cut victor. In fact, so lopsided was the primary process that Bill Bradley - once considered an obvious choice to shore up liberal Democrats and voters unhappy with President Bill Clinton - has faded from the list, largely because of his poor performance in the primaries and the obvious rancor Bradley bears toward the vice president.

Bradley's departure also makes it unlikely that Bradley's key ally, Sen. Robert Kerrey of Nebraska, would be chosen. Kerrey has been an outspoken critic of the vice president and the administration, and is considered by many Democrats to be unreliable on key issues.

The conventional wisdom on vice presidential candidates has been to complement the nominee in age, ethnicity, region or ideology. But Bill Clinton broke with conventional thinking in 1992 in choosing Gore, who was much like Clinton in many important ways: a young Southerner from the moderate wing of the Democratic party.

The choice of Gore as a running mate proved to be an important factor in the president's eventual victory, as it highlighted the perception that the Democrats represented an energetic, forward-looking alternative to George Bush's older, more change-resistant image.

"Gore made the Democrats look fresh and exciting in 1992, and it's possible they may try the same tactic again," said Dick Morris, a political analyst and campaign consultant.

The question before Democrats now is whether Gore will make the same choice, or will he seek to shore up the Democratic base by choosing a running mate from a traditional liberal interest group, what his campaign manager, Donna Brazile, has called the "four pillars" of the Democratic party - women, blacks, labor and other minorities.

Chief among the "four pillars" contenders are Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo.

Feinstein is the only woman - and as an added bonus hails from the nation's largest state, California - considered to have a serious shot at the vice presidential nomination. But insiders have cooled toward her as a possibility, noting that she may be too liberal for a national election. Feinstein is also facing a strong challenge for her seat from Rep. Tom Campbell. Besides, polling indicates that Gore could win California handily without Feinstein on the ticket.

Richard Durbin's stock has risen appreciably in recent days after Gore spokesperson Doug Hattaway told reporters "Illinois and other Midwestern states are traditional battlegrounds, and we certainly will be spending a lot of time in Illinois." In fact, according to most analysts the industrial Midwest is likely to be the deciding region in the fall elections. Durbin could help swing many of those states and could also placate organized labor, which is uneasy at Gore's free trade positions. Still, Durbin lacks a national reputation and has never been tested on the national scene.

Andrew Cuomo would bring to the ticket regional balance, a famous Democratic name, and could sway Italian Catholics throughout the country. He is, however, considered a long shot for his age (43) and the perception that an Italian-American could be a liability outside the Northeast. Richardson, a Hispanic, is considered an even longer shot because of his association with the recent Chinese nuclear spy scandals and current rise in fuel prices.

Most observers, in fact, think that Gore will continue in the Clinton tradition and choose someone who resembles himself - a young, moderate liberal with a reputation for techno-savvy, what many Democrats have come to call "Goreniks." As one Democratic strategist who asked not to be named told, "Why abandon a winning strategy?"

According to most observers, high on the list is Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who has Midwestern appeal and has proven he can win in a Republican state. Still, Bayh is young and is in only his first term as a senator. The same problems arise for another Gorenik, Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend, who is little known outside of her state and has no executive experience.

Washington Gov. Gary Locke, an Asian-American, could appeal to that constituency and also bolster Gore's standing among young technology workers in Redmond and Silicon Valley. But according to published reports, Locke dreads the idea of taking his young family to Washington, D.C., and remains uninterested in the job.

At least one dark horse has been mentioned, a candidate who may bear watching if Republican nominee George W. Bush chooses to make Clinton fatigue and ethical lapses important campaign issues: Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew and highly-regarded ethical watchdog who was one of the president's sharpest critics during the impeachment trial. Still, Lieberman is running for reelection this year, and Connecticut is hardly an important electoral college state.

"Lieberman should be George W.'s nightmare," said Glen Thurow, a political scientist in Dallas, Tex. "Immediately, Lieberman neutralizes one of the Republicans' best issues - the perception that Gore has ethical problems and a tendency to misstate the truth."

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