Despite All The Name Dropping, The Veep Short List Is Short Indeed

Al Gore and George W. Bush can't go anywhere these days without the local press bellowing that a beloved governor or home-state senator is on the short list to be Vice-President. But there are lists, and there are lists. The roster of real contenders includes only a small group of pols who are either ideological soul mates of the prospective nominees or have the potential to swing a big bloc of electoral votes. "There's always a real list," chuckles one veteran of Presidential matchmaking, "and then there's the B.S. list."

-- Wish list. Two names keep popping up in Republican circles: Colin Powell and John McCain. But Powell has emphatically expressed his disinterest in being Veep--though not in being Secretary of State. And McCain, at a May 9 pow-wow with Bush, asked to be scratched, too. So why will their names stay in play? To help George W. woo independents.

-- The woman factor. When Bush goes to the Northwest, Representative Jennifer Dunn of Washington is mentioned as a potential Veep. In New Jersey, it's Governor Christine Todd Whitman. But Dunn is little-known, and the pro-choice Whitman is anathema to right-wingers. Insiders believe that Elizabeth Dole--to some Bushies, Dole Light--will get a serious look only if Bush develops a gender gap. Meanwhile, the top name on Democratic lists, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, 66, faces reelection this year, which all but knocks her out of serious contention. Still, having a law-and-order, Jewish woman on the list is seen as a plus by the Gore camp.

-- Minority mirage. Democratic operatives hope to appeal to Latinos by floating the name of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. Prominent African Americans in play for Gore include Fannie Mae Chairman and CEO Franklin Raines. In addition to Powell, Republican strategists are hyping Oklahoma Representative J.C. Watts, who is popular with social conservatives. Raines, however, has never held elective office; Richardson and Watts come from states too small to matter.

-- Low impact. Gore is a big fan of California Governor Gray Davis, but why bother Graying the ticket when the state should be safely Democratic. On the GOP side, New York Governor George Pataki has a different problem: He's unlikely to deliver his state to Bush.

-- Bogus business bunch. To curry favor with Corporate America, Dems are floating the names of ex-Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin and Commerce Secretary William M. Daley. Republicans, in turn, are buzzing about Dell CEO Michael Dell and GE Chairman Jack Welch. Not only are these guys not interested, but history says execs don't make great pols.

So who's for real? For Bush, a true short list probably begins with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. He's a decorated Vietnam vet, a Catholic, and could deliver the state's 22 electoral votes. Trouble is, he's pro-choice. And that could cause fratricide at the convention. "It would be a terribly dumb move," says anti-abortion leader Phyllis Schlafly. "It would cause massive defections" to Reform Party front-runner Pat Buchanan.

If Bush decides Ridge isn't worth a rumble, he'd likely consider a small group of pro-life governors and lawmakers. Among them: Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has been promoted by McCain, and Connie Mack of Florida.

Gore must decide whether to go for geography or ideology. For example, tapping social moderate and fiscal conservative Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana would emphasize his New Democrat credentials. Bayh, 44, would be to Gore what Gore was to Clinton--loyal soul mate and fellow policy wonk. Downside: Zzzzz-factor.

If Gore chooses geography, he might look to Florida Senator Bob Graham, North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, or ex-Georgia Governor Zell Miller. All might help Gore carry their home states and swing states in Dixie.

Vice-Presidential choices rarely tip the balance in an election. The last time a Veep played a pivotal role was 1960, when Lyndon Johnson delivered Texas for John F. Kennedy. With both Bush and Gore expecting a close election, they can only hope for JFK's luck. In the meantime, Veep lists will grow longer and more illusory.