And the veep speculating begins ...

I know who will be the Democrats' pick for vice president, and it isn't John Edwards. Bill Richardson? Nope. Dick Gephardt? Sorry, no. Wesley Clark? I've got an even better vet in mind.

Wait a minute ... does anyone care? My father used to say the shortest measurable amount of time is the interval between the light turning green and the guy behind you honking his horn. In politics, this fraction expresses itself in the quick shift from presidential to vice-presidential speculation.

While this may be fascinating to the insiders who think the characters on "The West Wing" are modeled after themselves, to most Americans it's pointless theorizing. After all, we're six months ahead of the convention. So why bother? Two reasons:

• It sells newspapers. Now that John Kerry seems to have wrapped up the Democratic nomination, news organizations have a lot of political space to fill. Building up speculation about the choice for vice president is almost like having another presidential campaign to cover.

• "It's like cotton candy," says Prof. James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. Those weird few of us who grew up spending more time watching political conventions than the World Series know exactly what he means. For instance, when I first realized whom John Kerry would pick to be his running mate, I did a little dance of satisfaction that startled my dog, Oscar. I saw it in the way they looked at each other on C-SPAN (John Kerry and his future running mate, not John Kerry and Oscar). Rapport, respect, it was all there.

No one's mentioned his name in the speculation so far, either. Oh, maybe in a blog or two, but none of the majors. His choice would really shake things up, shifting the dynamic of the race and adding unexpected excitement to the ticket.

Do I have your attention? And you said you don't care about politics. All right, it's Max Cleland!

Former Senator Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, is from the South, is someone John Kerry trusts, and was hounded from office by the Bush political team for being insufficiently patriotic.

Did I mention he's from the South?

My advice to John Kerry is to deny he's considering the Cleland move and still try to spring it on the convention as a surprise. He can say this column was "unsubstantiated rumor" or if he wants to go back to his Yale roots, "piffle." I don't mind.

And if it turns out I'm wrong? It was fun while it lasted. You should try it, too. Pick a campaign and work for it. Find a bandwagon and board it. Do whatever it takes to keep interested in the 2004 election. Don't get bored with it before it's begun.

William Klein is a Democratic political consultant and writes about politics at www.headlineupdate.com.

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