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Picking a No. 2 in the glare of the Internet age

More than ever, vice presidential wannabes must maneuver between groveling and remaining cool.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 22, 2008



Washington

Time was when a presumptive presidential nominee could sit back and quietly ponder his options for a running mate without a daily deluge of media speculation and reports of suspected preening by vice presidential wannabes.

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Those days are long gone. In an era of Politico.com and other Web-based political poop sheets, where space is infinite and with video cameras and tape recorders leaving little unreported, never before has so much digital ink been spilled on something that's likely not to matter to the election's outcome.

But in the dog days that precede the parties' end-of-summer conventions, there's no guiltier pleasure among the politically minded than to chew over the latest clues as to who really wants the nod, who doesn't, and what vibes the candidates themselves are throwing off.

Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota and a strong backer of Republican John McCain from the start of the campaign, has cut off his little "mullet" in favor of a more conventional hair style. There's a clear sign he really wants on the GOP ticket. Ditto Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), who is getting married – thus dampening some of the concern about his lack of a wedding band. Former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn (D), who is regularly mentioned as someone who could add national security gravitas to Barack Obama's Democratic candidacy, is now backing away from his opposition to gays in the military.

The beauty of all the talk is there no way to disprove any of the theories, at least until the actual selections are announced. The candidates themselves may not know which way they're leaning, at this point. Those with a window into their thinking aren't talking, and those who talk probably don't have a clue.

But out of the chaos a certain order has emerged. And the old rule – that being seen as lobbying for the veep nod will guarantee you're not chosen – may be dead. Exhibit A is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who proved to be Senator McCain's toughest competitor for the Republican nomination. Soon after dropping out of the race, Mr. Romney was all over television touting his interest in being McCain's running mate – despite the senator's ill-disguised disdain for the wealthy and well-coiffed ex-governor.

Romney then cooled the overt groveling, and after many weeks of raising money for McCain and touting his virtues on cable TV, is now seen as a leading contender to join the GOP ticket. To McCain insiders, who stress the importance of the senator's personal comfort level with his potential No. 2, the choice isn't a slam dunk. But they don't rule it out.

"It still seems like an unlikely pick, if only because of the importance McCain puts on those types of personal feelings," says Dan Schnur, who ran communications for McCain in his 2000 presidential race and is not active in the current race. "But for all the talk, Romney certainly brings a lot of political benefits to the ticket, which could force McCain to reconsider how important that type of personal chemistry is to him."

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