Who's on a dream ticket in 2000?

With nominations virtually assured, Bush and Gore want their choices for No. 2 to win independent voters.

Here's a quick quiz: What do Chuck Hagel, Evan Bayh, and Tom Ridge have in common?

Or rather, can anyone outside the world of presidential politics even identify these guys?

The first two are senators, the other is a governor, and their names are suddenly on the tip of every political aficionado's tongue as the great quadrennial game of "who wants to run for vice president" kicks into gear.

For both Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, now positioned to win the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations, the choice of running mate is a key piece in the quest to woo voters in November.

Though both men enjoy high name recognition among the public, most voters still haven't focused on who they really are. Their running-mate selections, expected by the summer conventions, will give important signals about the qualities each man sees as important in fleshing out his presidential ticket - and in the next administration.

For both, the veep selection is also an opportunity to reach out to the vast body of independent voters - now one-third of the electorate - who are up for grabs. In particular, they're after that newly energized corps of voters who supported Arizona Sen. John McCain for the Republican nomination, who are now searching for a political home in November.

"The vice-presidential choice is pretty critical this time around, probably more so for George Bush," says Jim Guth, a political analyst at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.

Governor Bush had to veer further right than he had planned to clear the way to the GOP nomination, and now he has an opportunity to show voters he's not a captive of the religious right, analysts say.

"For Bush, [the vice-presidential choice] is crucial to certify his moderation," says David Axelrod, a Democratic consultant in Chicago. "He's so thoroughly mortgaged to the right wing of his party, he needs to buy his mortgage back through the VP nomination."

The way to do that, analysts say, may be by putting a moderate on the ticket - even someone who favors the right to abortion. Two names in that category are Gen. Colin Powell and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Many Republicans mention the retired Army general as the dream running mate, an African-American with high name recognition, a positive image, and a strong military record that helps balance out Bush's weakness in that area.

A Bush-Powell ticket might have the negative effect of looking like a jack rabbit, say some analysts - that is, stronger in the hind quarters than up front. But that's probably a moot issue, because Mr. Powell is reportedly not interested in the job.

Governor Ridge is less well- known, but he has the added value of possibly giving Bush a swing state, Pennsylvania. Ridge is also a Roman Catholic, which could help Bush with a key constituency; a Vietnam veteran; and a long-time governor, which would enhance the GOP ticket's image as made up of outsiders with solid executive experience.

For Bush, the question is whether selecting an abortion-rights running mate would alienate Christian conservatives, a key portion of his base. Though weaker than in the past as a political force, they remain among the most energized of Republican supporters, and he can't afford for them to sit at home in November.

Another name that is circulating in Republican circles is Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who was national co-chairman of the McCain campaign. If Bush can't get McCain himself to run with him, as seems to be the case at this juncture, his next-best option may be to get one of McCain's acolytes. Senator Hagel has no national profile, and Nebraska is a state likely to go for Bush anyway, but he has quickly established a reputation as one of the most-respected members of the Senate - and, like McCain, he's a Vietnam vet with his own compelling tales of heroism.

On the Democratic side, analysts say the smart strategy would be to keep the centrist New Democrat image alive and find somebody who can logically be portrayed as not captive to the liberal wing of the party. The selection of Evan Bayh, a young Democratic senator from Indiana (and the state's former governor) would almost look like a rerun of the Clinton-Gore ticket - two young centrists who are more alike than different.

But even though Senator Bayh is popular in Indiana, his inclusion on the ticket probably wouldn't give that state to the Democrats in the fall. If Gore wants to look at the crucial swing states, he needs to consider Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, says independent pollster Del Ali.

The problem is there aren't too many strong Democratic possibilities from those states. They all have GOP governors, and most of their senators are Republicans, too. Democrats blue-skying about who Gore might select have floated former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin as a running mate, to emphasize the strength of the national economy. But he's never been elected to office, and his Wall Street connections might produce some controversy.

One name that surfaces often for Gore is California's governor, Gray Davis, but for now, California looks set to go for Gore anyway, and the Democrats may be more interested in keeping him in place as the only Democrat in charge of a large state.

Talk of a woman on the ticket has faded, especially after Elizabeth Dole performed weakly as a Republican presidential candidate. But the talk persists, and if Bush selects a woman, Gore might feel pressure to be bold as well in his selection.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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