What did George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer mean Wednesday when he referred to John McCain as "the vice president"? Was it an unfortunate non sequitur? A clever red herring? Or an accidental leak of the truth?
"[McCain] endorsed the governor on May 8th in Pittsburgh and has had very nice things to say and, actually, the governor and the senator have been in frequent touch on the telephone talking about various issues, particularly saving Social Security," Fleischer said on MSNBC. "So we're working shoulder to shoulder, and the vice president, of course, is going to be featured prominently at the Republican Convention in a prime time speaking role."
Fleischer's comment, picked up by National Journal's Hotline, quickly caused a small brush fire of gossip, but Bush swears that only he, his wife, Laura, and Dick Cheney know who is still on his short list. "I really do feel for you because it's not fair," Bush told reporters at a Thursday press conference.
Of course, a recent story in the Bangor Daily News reported that there were some homemade Bush/Keating stickers floating around the Bush campaign office in Maine weeks ago, for what it's worth. Keating, the Catholic, pro-life governor from Oklahoma, remains near the top of Bush's presumptive list, along with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.
For the Dems, the focus has become as much an issue of timing: Reports this week are now rife with speculation that Gore will announce his selection soon after the Republican Convention to dull any bounce Bush may receive from the convention, which ends Aug. 3. USA Today reports that Gore "plans to be campaigning with his vice presidential partner by that weekend ... to steal [the] GOP spotlight." If that's the case, he might want to pick a surprise candidate instead of the likely suspects because, as the New York Times Magazine points out, "The problem he faces is that there is a dearth of spine-tingling choices."
One of the least-tingling candidates, Gov. Gray Davis of California, officially checked himself out of the race during an interview with the AP. USA Today named Florida Sen. Bob Graham and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry as "the finalists," while Roll Call says House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is moving "steadily closer to the center of speculation" about whether he will be Gore's running mate.