John McCain "is set to meet with at least three potential" at his ranch this weekend in Sedona, AZ, "suggesting that he is stepping up his search" for a VP. FL Gov. Charlie Crist (R), LA Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and Mitt Romney (R) "have all accepted invitations." McCain's camp "described this as a social weekend that would include 10 couples, and -- as has been its policy -- declined to discuss any aspect" of the VP search.
"The meeting, which was not disclosed publicly, is taking place on a weekend after Mr. McCain releases his health-care records." The release of those records on 5/23 "is itself a high-profile event that could -- by design or not -- draw attention away from the gathering" (Nagourney, New York Times, 5/22).
"Playing down the significance of the weekend," senior adviser Charlie Black "noted" that the McCains "have hosted similar events when other presumed contenders," including MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), have spent the day at McCain's "secluded" Hidden Valley Ranch (Reston, Los Angeles Times, 5/22).
McCain adviser Mark Salter: "There will be grilling"(Curl, Washington Times, 5/22).
Yet another GOP governor, MN's Tim Pawlenty, "was invited but will not attend because of a previous engagement" (House, Tampa Tribune, 5/22).
CNN's Borger: "I would say there probably wouldn't be a lot of alcohol served at this event" ("Election Center," 5/21).
With Girlfriend In Tow
"There are few politicians in office today with Crist's retail skills. ... McCain could likely find no more indefatigable campaigner" (Martin, Politico, 5/21).
Crist is "hugely popular" among GOPers and Dems in FL. His "eleventh-hour endorsement of McCain is credited with helping McCain "clinch" FL's 1/29 primary and "put him in position to win the nomination." A former state AG and state lawmaker, Crist "is more affable than ideological and is viewed with suspicion by conservatives." He "has built a reputation as a consumer advocate and environmentalist who also backed prisoner work crews and opposed abortion" (Los Angeles Times, 5/22).
When asked about his upcoming travel plans on 5/21, Crist "mentioned" a FL GOP fundraiser in NYC and other events -- "but said nothing about McCain" (Kennedy, Orlando Sentinel, 5/22).
"It will be Crist's second visit" to McCain's ranch. After endorsing McCain, Crist "campaigned with him across the country, ending up" in AZ (Gibson, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 5/22).
Syndicated columnist Tony Blankley, on Crist: "I don't think he brings much. I think if McCain can't carry Florida on his own ... he needs to carry something else. ... This is such a weird election season that McCain needs to do something different ... rather than trying to do a sort of classic kind of like carry-a- state deal."
Jinning Up The Rumors
The visit "adds a heavy dose of lighter fuel to recent speculation" that Jindal "is on the short list of possible running mates" (Milhollon, Baton Rouge Advocate, 5/22).
Jindal, 36, "is considered a rising GOP star" (Boston Globe, 5/22). He "has established himself as perhaps the most promising Republican of his generation and certainly the most accomplished" (Martin, Politico, 5/21).
He "has played down suggestions that he is being seriously considered as McCain's running mate. But while Jindal has repeatedly said he loves being governor and hopes Louisiana voters will keep him in that post for two full terms, he has refused to say that he would turn down an invitation to run with McCain.
Ex-LA Gov. Buddy Roemer (R), a McCain adviser, "said the topic of a running mate didn't come up when McCain joined Jindal and his wife for a dinner last month at Commander's Palace in New Orleans." Roemer: "This was just a 'get to know you better' sort of thing." But he said McCain "thinks the world of Bobby Jindal."
Jindal "might offer a compelling alternative" to the Dems' African-American nominee. Jindal "is seen as solid on conservative social issues such as opposition to abortion and embryonic stem cell research, issues that appeal to a GOP base that has raised questions about McCain. As the youngest potential candidate for vice president, Jindal could offer some appeal to voters who might worry that McCain, 71, is too old for the rigors of the presidency."
"On the other hand, Jindal is relatively inexperienced, especially in areas of foreign policy, and has expressed reservations about the war in Iraq, which McCain is committed to continuing until victory is achieved" (Alpert, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 5/22). "His youth could offer a contrast with the 72-year-old McCain but it might also highlight the presidential nominee’s age, rather than assuage voters about it" (Politico, 5/21).
Washington Post's Robinson: "Doing a photo op is one thing. Picking Bobby Jindal is another thing. ... He would bring to the ticket diversity. He would bring a ferocious set of brains. ... McCain needs somebody younger and vigorous, but he also needs somebody who ... is ready to be president on day one. ... [Jindal] makes Barack Obama look like some 36-year Senate veteran compared to him" ("Race for the WH," MSNBC, 5/21).
CNBC's Harwood, on Jindal: "I think this could be a long-shot pick by a candidate who needs a long shot. He needs to swing for the fence.
Gentlemen, We Can Rebuild Him
Wall Street Journal's Holmes writes, in the three months since Romney suspended his WH bid, he "has reshaped himself again, this time into a fervent" McCain supporter.
During an interview 5/21 in his "sun-drenched corner office" at the campaign's old HQ in Boston, Romney "reflected" on his failed WH bid, as well as his political future, including his chances to become McCain's running mate. "He professed both low interest and low probability" in his VP prospects.
Romney: "I'm a big boy. I understand how politics works. Sen. McCain won fair and square." More: "I'm not doing TV appearances other than those that they ask me to do. I'm not doing events around the country other than those he asks me to do. I think the VP talk is missing the mark. We're trying to get John McCain elected."
Analysts say Romney "may be a contender for the No. 2 slot, though he usually comes lower down on the short list" (5/22).
"Despite their bruising primary fight," Romney "has become an active surrogate for McCain in attacking" Barack Obama and "would add key assets to a McCain ticket. ... Whereas McCain's specialty is foreign policy, Romney has domestic policy expertise, given his background in business, commerce, and healthcare, shoring up McCain's weakness on the economy - a potential liability for him in a general election."
Also, Romney, a "youthful-looking" 61, "would also help counter perceptions" that McCain, 71, is "too old to be president." But UVA prof. Larry Sabato "said Romney 'brings nothing' to the table politically, because he'd be unlikely to help McCain carry any major states, and his presence on the ticket would raise more questions about his Mormon religion. Though Romney's background was vetted during the primary campaign, 'just because he has been vetted doesn't mean there aren't problems,' he said" (Williams/Helman, Boston Globe, 5/22).
"For all his energy, Romney demonstrated trouble connecting with voters during the primary" (Politico, 5/21).
Los Angeles Times' Reston writes, "The most crucial test of chemistry may be with Romney, who is seen as one of the strongest potential candidates to join a McCain ticket. When they were rivals for the GOP nomination, McCain was at times disdainful of the former CEO's experience and qualifications to be president, dismissing him as a 'manager,' not a leader."
"But having Romney on the ticket could help McCain with the religious right and conservatives." Ex-Rep./GOP lobbyist/ex-Romney backer Vin Weber: "I think Romney is the favorite of most who are one circle removed from McCain. But no one knows what the innermost circle -- McCain, Cindy, [advisor Mark] Salter, [campaign manager Rick] Davis, Black -- are thinking."
Karl Rove: "Romney was governor for one term. ... He's got a broader record that people can associate with, head of the U.S. Olympics, successful business person. I'm not suggesting that he is the only person that McCain ought to consider, but I have been surprised how many conservatives have expressed a confidence and an enthusiasm in Romney" ("Hannity & Colmes," FNC, 5/21).
More Blankley: "Romney's problem is that he's seen as inauthentic and that's inconsistent with the theme of McCain, which is the straight shooter. And also, his Mormonism isn't going to help him amongst conservatives, unfortunately" ("Race for the WH," MSNBC, 5/21).
So Is Lieberman No Longer On The Short List?
"Among other guests expected" were Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), "close confidantes of McCain" (AP, 5/21). Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), ex-EBay CEO Meg Whitman and FedEx Corp. CEO Frederick Smith "are also expected to attend" (Los Angeles Times, 5/22).
"Even encouraging the perception that they are under consideration might be more a matter of appearance than political reality: the mere impression that Mr. McCain is considering a running mate from Florida, for example, could help him in a critical state" (New York Times, 5/22).
Pawlenty, who wasn't invited to this weekend's BBQ mtg: "Well, I think Senator McCain is going to be looking at dozens of people and he's going to have great people to choose from. I just take them at their word that this is something that is part of getting acquainted with other people, and it's social and all of these people have been friends and supporters of Senator McCain. So, I'm sure it's a great time for them to get together, and it will be a wonderful weekend" ("Fox & Friends," FNC, 5/22).
Democratic officials say Obama "has begun a top-secret search for a running mate." Officials said Obama "has asked" ex-former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson "to begin vetting" potential VP picks. Johnson did the same job for Dem nominees John Kerry in '04 and Walter Mondale in '84 (Pickler, AP, 5/22).
This article appears in the May 22, 2008 edition of Latest Edition.