Veepstakes: Who will be No. 2?

Vice presidential selections don't really matter - except when they do. Just ask anyone who remembers the election of 1960, when Lyndon Johnson indisputably delivered Texas, and thus the election, to John F. Kennedy.

Geraldine Ferraro, who made history when Walter Mondale put her on the Democratic ticket in 1984, says she added 0.8 percent to her team's bottom line. But President Reagan won in a landslide, and thus Ms. Ferraro's contribution didn't affect the outcome.

Will the veep choice matter this time? It could, analysts say, with the nation split politically down the middle and a rerun of 2000's statistical tie not impossible. For now, anyone who says they know whom John Kerry will put at his side is lying. The Massachusetts senator himself says he has no list. But if he wanted to, he could have plenty of help drawing one up.

On Wednesday, Kerry raised the heat by naming the head of his vice presidential search process, Washington businessman Jim Johnson, the former chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae. But it hardly seems possible that Kerry will do what President Bush did four years ago with Dick Cheney: name his veep headhunter to be on the ticket himself. Unlike Mr. Cheney, Mr. Johnson has no past in elective office.

So the political punditocracy can continue filling the void with speculation about a range of possible veep candidates, factoring in home state, gender, ethnicity, résumé, gravitas, political skill, compatibility with Kerry, and that incalculable "wow" factor. Some say the role of the VP nominee is to be an attack dog - which weighs against Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the big-smile trial lawyer who was Kerry's last major rival.

But Senator Edwards, whom Democratic consultant James Carville calls the best campaigner out there, certainly can't be ruled out. The Monitor spoke with a range of political observers; here's what they said:

Del Ali, Washington-based independent pollster: "People are saying [Sen.] Evan Bayh from Indiana, but you are not trying to win Indiana. The advantage is, he is a very respected US senator. He is a hard guy to attack. But I don't think you need him for the Midwest.

"The fascinating pick, out of Florida ... is not [Sen.] Bob Graham, it's [Sen.] Bill Nelson. He's only been in the US Senate four years.... But here's the thing: Nelson would force Bush to spend more money in Florida, a place he assumes he'd win.

"Some are saying [Gov.] Bill Richardson of New Mexico [who is Hispanic].... There is high unemployment; [Democrats] are perched safe there. They can win New Mexico without Richardson....

"I don't think there's any chance it's [Missouri Rep. Dick] Gephardt, it would be too much of an inside-Washington ticket.

"I heard some say [Kansas Gov.] Kathleen Sebelius.... but they are not going to win Kansas no matter what. If it's to put a woman on the ticket, it's only for that reason."

On Senator Edwards: "Putting him on the ticket would ensure the Democrats pick up a Senate seat ... [and] the contrast with [Vice President Dick] Cheney would just be overwhelming. But do you want a guy who looks like he's right out of college a heart-beat away from the presidency?"

Floyd Ciruli, Denver-based independent pollster: "I would go to the Midwest. That's where the battleground is. And because Kerry's a foreign policy pro, I would look for someone with great economic credentials.

"Gephardt's strength is that he is much more identified as working class and blue collar, and consequently is a nice contrast with [the liberal] Kerry. Gephardt, as a Midwesterner and associated with labor and economic issues like trade, fits a profile that would be useful in what we used to call the Rust Belt."

Whit Ayres, GOP strategist in Atlanta: "Ultimately the guy has got to be capable of being the president. It's easy to overlook, with all these factors, but it's absolutely crucial. Ideally you bring both region and chemistry with the choice. Or you go with what President Bush did and go with someone with whom you have a fine working relationship.

"If you're going to pick someone to bring a state, you'd better be darn well sure you're going to carry that state. That's not at all sure for John Edwards. Bill Richardson's name has been bandied about. Richard Gephardt would make a good choice. He's a credible contender for the presidency. He's from a swing state. He can bring the swing state with him."

Haynes Johnson, Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist and author: "There's a lot of thought he won't pick Edwards, because Edwards won't carry anything for him. But I actually think that Edwards and Kerry are a very interesting combination. Edwards has everything Kerry seems to lack - personality, charm, very good appeal. [Journalist] Walter Lippmann used to talk about how 'the pictures in your head' matter a great deal. When the public looks at them, particularly in the TV age, that will make a great difference."

Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic think tank in Washington: "Evan Bayh, with his Midwestern background, certainly has to be in the top tier. Bill Richardson, for all the obvious reasons: The Southwest will be crucial, as will the Latino vote in a close election. John Edwards has to be high on the list, someone who can speak Southern. He brings political talent and attractiveness to the ticket, and brings a different sort of balance to it.

"And then I'll pull out a dark horse - [Gov.] Mark Warner of Virginia. He's from a state that won't go Democratic, but he's a progressive Southern governor and also an entrepreneur. He can show a face of the Democratic Party that will belie the stereotypes. He's a good New Democrat, a young and talented comer in Democratic politics."

Jenny Backus, Democratic strategist: "The candidate who absolutely makes the most sense is Edwards. One, we need to name a VP right away - for financial reasons, for strategic reasons. We have a very short window in which candidates can raise more money, and we need as many principals out there raising money as possible. Edwards has demonstrated the ability to raise money.

"Tactically, we need to show as a party that we can do North, South, East, West, and that we're not afraid to take on the Republicans anywhere. You can put Edwards on a bus through the South and shake out a lot of money. Also important: He's vetted; that's very important. Voters know what there is to know, both positive and negative, and they obviously like him.

"Their messages are complementary enough. You have Kerry the veteran, with foreign policy strength, fighting for the little guy. Edwards brings positive, 'two Americas' compassion. It's a nice little symphony for the Democrats."

Steve Murphy, Dick Gephardt's campaign manager: "I haven't talked to Dick, but I see him as a very logical candidate. The vice president is selected more for what [he] says about the presidential nominee and what the ticket needs in a macro sense, as opposed to narrowly targeting a state or a constituency. Dick Gephardt is the best of both, like Kerry, with enormous experiense and expertise. Also, as a candidate, he has been probed more than a rock on Mars."

Noel C. Paul, David T. Cook, and Sara B. Miller contributed to this report.

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