Tuesday, May 06, 2008

How the McCain Veepstakes started over two years ago

In early 2006, I sat down with rising Democratic star Rep. Artur Davis, perhaps the next Governor of Alabama, for an hour-long interview with the Dartmouth Free Press. I asked him who were his favorite Republicans to work with. Two years later, his choices are all the more interesting.

DFP: You have a pretty bipartisan reputation... Who are the best Republicans, the easiest Republicans, maybe, to work with?

AD: There are two people I have a lot of respect for. One of them is Rob Portman, the U.S. trade representative who was formerly a member from Ohio. The other is Bobby Jindal from Louisiana. Both of them are exceptionally sharp, they are exceptionally knowledgeable about issues, and while I disagree with them (laughs) on a whole range of issues, they bring a thoughtfulness to politics, and they also don’t de-legitimate people who disagree with them. They will argue your ideas but they don’t argue character back and forth, and I think that that’s a good thing.

I also overheard Davis tell a Dartmouth professor that he might expect to see a Portman-Jindal presidential ticket one day, if the Republican Party would only allow them to move up. I can understand his fears. The Republican Party these last 14 years has been a very hard-line, partisan organization; not a friendly place for pragmatic guys like Jindal and Portman.

That was the first time I had heard of either Portman or Jindal, but taking heed of Davis’ words, I began to watch their careers with interest. Two years later, Jindal is the newly elected Governor of Louisiana and Portman is the recently retired head of the White House Office of Management and Budget. More importantly, both men are leading candidates to become John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate.

In today’s New York Times, and why they gave him a regular column I will never understand, William Kristol wrote that four separate McCain aides suggested in four separate conversations last week that Jindal is a possible pick. The two politicians did spend a lot of time together during McCain’s trip to New Orleans last month, and apparently get along fabulously. Jay Leno asked Jindal about his VP prospects after that visit, and both the Wall Street Journal and Robert Novak floated the idea in March. I myself don’t know that much about Jindal; the Independents I spoke to in New Orleans and its suburbs during my time there loved him, including one co-worker of mine who had known him for years, but NOLA bloggers seem to despise him.

Portman, a Dartmouth alum, seems to be the White House’s pick. While Novak was one of the first to float Jindal’s name, he also called Portman the favorite to win. His impressive resume would bring the economic credibility McCain lacks and could potentially help in his home swing state of Ohio, but I would imagine his White House resume would be a liability, given the Democrats’ efforts to tie McCain to Bush.

Until these two names emerged, Vice President guessing games seemed to center around Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, and former Governors and presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. I thought it would be Huckabee until he became a campaign headache for McCain, hanging around well after it was clear McCain would be the nominee; at that point my bets shifted to Pawlenty, even though he failed to deliver McCain the Minnesota primary. He certainly had the media buzz, as well as conservative credentials and a good relationship with McCain. Crist, another media favorite and McCain friend, would also bring a swing state and solid conservative credentials. Sanford never gained that much buzz and did not actually endorse McCain until after the SC primary, and I never thought Romney had a prayer in Hell given how much he and McCain loathe one another and how much the religious right distrusts him.

Both Portman and Jindal are solid, inoffensive conservatives who would balance out McCain’s age. The one thing Jindal has in common with the other five likely picks that Portman does not is that he is a Governor. He is also an Indian American, which could potentially balance out the historical importance of a woman or black nominee – at least in some eyes (not mine). Of course, Louisiana is a much safer state for a Republican than Ohio and probably needs Jindal more than does McCain, who could certainly use an economic heavyweight like Portman.

Ultimately, I think what will matter most is this: McCain is trying to succeed a fellow Republican who botched Hurricane Katrina and has a 28% approval rating in every credible major poll*. In this environment, Jindal’s credentials as a Louisianan and a reformer might be a tad more useful than the two jobs Portman worked for Bush. Portman and Crist may remain the press favorites, but my money’s on either Jindal or Pawlenty.

*(The mention of Bush’s approval rating brings to mind my favorite line from Kristol’s column: “Obama is the likely Democratic nominee. Some conservatives are giddy at the thought — kidding themselves that the general election will therefore be easy, that Obama will be another Dukakis… One McCain aide said: If in 1988 Ronald Reagan had had a 30 percent job approval rating, and 80 percent of the voters had thought we were on the wrong track, Dukakis would have won.” You know a Republican is bad when even Kristol jumps ship… well hey, only 259 days left, thank God!)

1 comment:

Jordan said...

Thank you for bringing these gentlemen to light. I would probably never heard of Jindal or Portman until Big Mac chose one of them for his ticket.

I think Jindal from your description would be more valuable than the other four gentlemen you mentioned. Personally I don't even take race, gender, or age into account as it's completely irrelevant to the facts of what the candidates views and beliefs are. I contend to support Obama because he's black or McCain because he has the "most experience" is tantamount to holding the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's words against Senator Obama.