Pick Your Vice

With his primary rival out of the race and his secondary rival hardly a threat , John McCain can now begin scouring the Earth for the perfect running mate. The size of that world is not very big. In fact, there are a few specific factors McCain will be looking for in a nominee. Here’s what they are, and who might fit the bill.

Location, location, location. When asked what factors he would consider in a vice president, McCain insisted that geography would not be one of them. But everyone knows he could use a little help below the Mason-Dixon. On Super Tuesday, he lost to Mike Huckabee in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee. Plus, despite his conservative record on social issues, many Republicans still see him as weak. (See Dobson, James .) So who has Southern cred? Fred Thompson fits the bill—but then again, he lost those states, too. Huckabee himself is an obvious choice, although his “fair tax” evangelism would quickly alienate fiscal conservatives, even if they like his real evangelism. Which brings us to:  

Money man. Before dropping out, Mitt Romney carried the torch of fiscal conservatism for Campaign 2008. Now McCain will have to pick it up, but he could use the help of a stalwart, limited-government veep. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint ’s name has been floated , given his commitment to health-care markets and school choice, as well as the toothectomy he wants to give Sarbanes-Oxley. On the executive side, S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford has fought the state legislature’s spending initiatives, vetoing 106 items in 2004 in an attempt to balance a $155 million deficit. Now there’s a guy who hates the other white meat.

United we stand. McCain is widely known (and widely despised) for cross-aisle initiatives, from McCain-Feingold to his role in the bipartisan “Gang of 14” that negotiated a compromise in the filibuster battle of 2005. In the same spirit, he has brought Sen. Joe Lieberman on the trail, with generally positive reception. Choosing Lieberman as a running mate, as Newt Gingrich has suggested , could be an effective weapon against Obama’s calls for unity. Or, if Hillary were the nominee, it could help McCain win disaffected Democrats. That said, it could cost him immeasurably among true believers. Conservatives may love Lieberman because he’s an apostate Democrat—but he’s still a Democrat.  

Who’s the boss? As a senator, McCain doesn’t have executive experience. Then again, neither will his Democratic opponent. But choosing a veep who has “run something” would give him an added edge, especially among conservatives concerned with an efficiently run government. Huckabee would be ideally suited, if he weren’t famous for his relatively liberal economic policies as chief exec of Arkansas. Romney would be great, too, if he and McCain hadn’t already blasted each other to bits over who’s more conservative. Govs. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.), John Huntsman (Utah), and Charlie Crist (Fla.) have shown up on speculative short lists as possible veeps. Pawlenty has been an enthusiastic Mac backer; Huntsman, a Mormon, abandoned Mitt Romney for McCain in the former’s home state, where 90 percent of   Republicans are Mormon and Romney took 89 percent of the vote; and the hugely popular Crist nudged Florida over to McCain. Plus, their conservative bona fides fairly shimmer.

Just a number. The last time a septuagenarian won the presidency, he turned his age to his advantage by joking that he wouldn’t hold his opponent’s ” youth and inexperience ” against him. McCain can play the same card, but questions about his health and energy level will persist, especially if confronting a fresh-faced youth like Obama. There’s a batch of vice presidential young’uns out there, including South Dakota Sen. John Thune and former Sen. George Allen, who endorsed McCain on Thursday. Then again, just about anyone would look youthful standing next to John McCain.