Bob Dole is hunting for a “10” for a running mate, but with Colin Powell seemingly out of contention the superstar pickings are slim.
So slim that the very man heading up Dole’s search team horrified Republicans a few weeks ago when he floated a Democrat - outgoing Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn.
And some of the supposed favorites that Dole is looking at - such as former South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell - have baggage that might turn problematic. Campbell was once accused of trying to use his opponent’s Jewish faith against him by raising it in a questionnaire poll.
“Ah, everyone’s going to have clutter in their background,” said one informal adviser to the Dole camp. “Nobody is going to be an automatic 10. But they could grow into it - especially if they do great in the debate” against Vice President Gore.
Dole, who turns 73 next month, must have someone younger and someone who keeps both the conservative and moderate wings of his party relatively happy. Most strategists think the No. 1 consideration for a running mate is this: Don’t pick someone who will hurt you, like Dan Quayle did.
While Republicans insist the rank and file have given up on Powell and won’t be judgmental about Dole’s pick, observers say the buildup over a potential Dole-Powell ticket will still hurt Dole’s ultimate choice.
“Powell is turning into a curse for Dole,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “Any vice presidential choice he makes will suffer by comparison.”
Dole says only that he wants someone he knows, trusts and can work with.
Translation: People close to Dole think he’ll put more stock into making it a good personal fit than what the person could draw politically.
That’s why Campbell is seen as a strong contender. He wouldn’t add anything to the GOP electoral strategy Dole should win South Carolina easily no matter what - but Dole is close to Campbell and feels he saved him during the primaries by delivering South Carolina at a crucial juncture.
Same goes for Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the former Vietnam POW who travels often with Dole as a pal but has the fellow-senator rap against him in a time when voters are tired of Washington politicians.
Because Dole trails Clinton in most polls right now, Dole is especially freed from electoral considerations, said Sabato: Worrying about one battleground state wouldn’t make a difference in a lopsided fight.
Still, Michigan Gov. John Engler, with strong conservative and outside-the-beltway credentials, tops many lists. (He’s the favorite, according to a Las Vegas oddsmaker.)
Other battleground-state governors to watch: Ohio’s George Voinovich and Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson.
The two women mentioned, New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, would probably jazz up the ticket, although both would risk angering conservatives because they support abortion rights.