With John Edwards insisting he won’t be John Kerry’s running mate, the professional pols are getting down to the fun game of selecting someone else—assuming that Kerry continues to be the front-runner. The short list so far:
• Bob Graham: Well-liked and rich, he’s the retiring Democratic senator from Florida who in the past was thought to have the clout to beat Dubya’s brother Jeb and bring the state into the Dem column. But out of office, how much power Graham still has stored up is anybody’s guess.
• Evan Bayh: Indiana’s vanilla Democratic senator, he’s trying to follow in Dad’s steps by trying to reach the White House. (Birch Bayh, also a senator from Indiana, turned out to be one of the most pitiful Democratic presidential candidates ever. During one of Birch’s New Hampshire primary appearances, workers walked past him without a flicker of recognition, pushing aside his extended hand.) Evan was a popular governor before becoming senator, has good looks, and is a member of the top echelon of the Democratic Leadership Council (the party’s right wing). Despite all the plotting and planning, the Clintonian DLC so far has been squeezed out of the Dem sweepstakes—Joe Lieberman is out, and John Edwards is poised to deep-six himself. Evan might rescue the conservative Southern Dems and even bring with him Indiana, a state Bush won in 2000. Not the least of Evan’s talents is getting the DLC jive down pat: “The Democratic Leadership Council is going to build upon our traditions and insist upon a new era of responsibility for all of us. Corporate responsibility, government responsibility, personal responsibility, and civic responsibility.” Sounds like Al Gore. The DLC promotes Evan Bayh by proclaiming that he is celebrated for “turning heads with his bipartisan approach to some of the country’s toughest issues.” Wow.
• Dick Gephardt: The first contender to officially yield to Kerry, Gephardt has been trying for so long to get in the White House that it seems only fair to give the guy a break. The Missouri congressman tried to score points with Kerry by dropping out after being crushed by him in Iowa. Losing so bad in his neighbor state doesn’t help him now: Those people who always thought he was a vote getter with labor took one look at his superfeeble showing and ran. Despite his years in Congress and his connections, his poor run leaves him with little leverage for the veep spot.
• Bill Richardson: The former New Mexico senator is Hispanic, which helps, but he got into hot water for his lax security rules while he was Clinton’s energy secretary. He’s a little more palatable than Evan Bayh, but the GOP’s dirty tricksters would eat him alive, portraying him as just short of a Chinese spy by the time they’re done with him. Some people like Richardson because he has foreign policy experience as a former UN ambassador and as a troubleshooting emissary securing the release of hostages around the world. But just as many seem to dislike him, claiming he’s adouble-talking glib guy in the mold of Clinton. As Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political prognosticator, puts it, Richardson has held two tough posts—UN ambassador and energy secretary—that automatically leave him with heavy baggage. “The Energy Department has controversy that no secretary can avoid—like the Nevada [Yucca Mountain] situation,” Sabato notes. “That’s a tough department to head if you have political ambitions. And also as a UN ambassador—God only knows what resolutions he voted for.” In the last election, the Southwest, with the exception of New Mexico, went to Bush. Maybe Richardson could win back the region. But maybe not.
• Wesley Clark: A fizzle as a presidential candidate, he isn’t likely to want to take orders from a lieutenant—considering that Clark’s a general who’s into the “leadership thing.”
Then there are the women: Hillary Clinton, who would be insane to get involved with Kerry, especially with every reporter in the country digging for dirt on him; Dianne Feinstein, the hard-boiled conservative California senator who has unknown appeal outside her state; and Janet Napolitano, governor of Arizona, who might at the very least make Bush fight for her state. People talk about Bush dumping Cheney, but if Napolitano were put up against him, everyone would rush to vote for Cheney.
Who’s left? John Edwards. There’s now a Draft Kerry-Edwards petition, along with bumper stickers. “John Kerry is a great guy. I love him,” says Jim Spencer, a Democratic consultant from Boston who helped start DraftKerryEdwards.com. “But he’s not the most exciting, charismatic guy in the world. Edwards is an exciting and charismatic guy. Edwards is going to be able to draw a crowd wherever he goes.” On ABC recently, Edwards sounded as if he had not quite made up his mind: “You don’t know what’s going to happen a month, three months, six months from now. As I sit here today, I intend to fight with everything I’ve got to be the nominee.”
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel and Alicia Ng