Denver – Now that Joe Biden is firmly ensconced on the Democratic ticket alongside Barack Obama, politics-watchers are handicapping the Republican pick, expected as early as Friday. Maybe, given Senator Biden's long experience as a skilled debater, John McCain needs a known national figure who has proven himself as an energetic surrogate for the presumed Republican nominee – say, Mitt Romney?
"You think someone who's in finance, merging businesses and losing American jobs, is the best answer to Biden?" asked Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, at a Monitor-sponsored luncheon Wednesday. "I hope we get Romney, I pray for Romney."
But Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is the son of George Romney, governor of Michigan in the 1960s – which gives the younger Romney an important tie to a key swing state. Mitt Romney, the argument also goes, could perhaps help Senator McCain in another battleground state, Nevada, which has a large Mormon population. The Romneys are devout Mormons.
Mr. Greenberg is again dismissive, factoring in how the younger Romney did in his own presidential run.
"Nationally, in our data and also nationally in the public data, the more voters saw Romney, the less they liked him," he says. "And I don't see any evidence that his father's position in Michigan has some enduring quality that shifts even a half a percent in Michigan. I want Romney."
James Carville, Greenberg's longtime political partner (the two were central to Bill Clinton's improbable victory in the 1992 presidential campaign), has a more colorful way of assessing vice-presidential picks. Does the candidate "make the opposing campaign manager throw up"?
"I don't think if they pick Romney, David Axelrod will reach for the trash can," says Mr. Carville, referring to Senator Obama's chief strategist.
So who do these guys fear? Greenberg goes with Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania and former secretary of Homeland Security. Picking Mr. Ridge could tip swing state Pennsylvania to McCain's side, a "big change to the landscape."
But Ridge favors abortion rights, which could harm McCain with social conservatives – a key element of the Republican base. Greenberg acknowledges the risk, but also sees a potential upside. It would help McCain woo voters in the middle, for whom social issues tend not to be a primary concern.
"He's pro-choice, but it's been a long time since that was central," says Greenberg. "There's homeland security. He's not very provocative on social issues."
Carville doesn't name names, but he predicts McCain will surprise us. "McCain and I share something in common," says the Ragin' Cajun. "We're both craps shooters. And just by nature, craps shooters always want to put their stack in the middle of the table."
It is widely believed that Biden was chosen for the Democratic ticket because of his long experience in foreign policy, a gap that Obama needed to fill in his own portfolio. Biden is also not shy about going on the attack. But there could be a downside to Biden: his mouth.
Carville agrees that Biden has a "zesty" personality. "He's a very aggressive guy," he says. "But I think he knows the stakes. He can also be very articulate, he can be very funny, he can be very charming."
The most important thing Biden can do in the race, Carville says, is to frame the case against McCain. The operative phrase should be that McCain is President Bush's "sidekick," not a maverick, he says.