Gephardt bows out

As the House minority leader jumps ship, his No. 2 jumps the gun. Will Bush announce his running mate next week?

By Anthony York
July 20, 2000 10:28PM (UTC)
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House Minority Whip David Bonior may never even have been on any list of prospects to be Al Gore's running mate, but he still may have been the big loser in this week's veep show. The Dems' No. 2 man in the House, Bonior reportedly sent letters around to his colleagues assuring them that he would be ready to assume control of the House election effort and the Democratic caucus should Minority Leader Richard Gephardt take the spot on the ticket alongside Gore.

After reportedly meeting with Gore to discuss the fall campaign this week, Gephardt raced to the front of the veep-picking shell game. By Monday, however, Gephardt called a press conference to take his name out of the running, eliminating any possibility of Speaker Bonior in the foreseeable future. "I think I've been clear. I don't know how you can be more clear," Gephardt told the Associated Press. "I've said I'm running for the House, and that's what I'm going to keep doing."

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Gephardt is about as exciting as it gets on the Dem side, one of the few with some semblance of national name recognition, and the press was abuzz this week with reports that Gore and Gephardt had met to talk things over last week. After all, the only folks approaching such "superstar" status on the Democratic side are former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, names that hardly compare to the GOP's John McCain and Colin Powell. Of course, McCain and Powell have repeatedly said they are not in the hunt.

In Thursday's issue, Joshua Micah Marshall makes the case for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. There is also increased speculation about former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, the conservative former head of the Armed Services Committee who took a newly elected President Clinton to task over Clinton's support for permitting gays in the military. Chatterers say that by picking Nunn, Gore would show that he intends to compete in the South, and solidify his role as a New Democrat -- labor and the left be damned!

While Gore mulls his choices, George W. Bush's selection process is well into its final phase. The central question remains, will he choose a McCainite or a governor? Advocates for the former are pushing for Sens. Fred Thompson or Chuck Hagel, who backed McCain in the primaries. Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge and Oklahoma's Frank Keating continue to dominate the list of gubernatorial prospects, with some increased focus on New York's George Pataki this week. Whatever the decision is, it seems clear that it will come sometime in the middle of next week, probably in Austin, Texas, as the governor embarks on his whistle-stop tour to Philadelphia through the Midwestern battleground states.

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Former GOPster Pat Buchanan thinks Bush is using his flirtation with pro-choicers like Pataki, Ridge and New Jersey's Christie Whitman to soften his image. "I think Mr. Bush is blowing smoke ..." he said on "Face the Nation" Sunday. If he taps a pro-choice running mate, Buchanan warned, "I think he would have an explosion at his convention. I don't think that he has the nerve to do that."

Buchanan's analysis was given some credence the following day when an unnamed Bush advisor spoke to the New York Times' Richard Berke about the possibility of a pro-choice No. 2. "I'd love to see it," said the advisor, who thinks Ridge would make an ideal running mate but is not worth the risk. "But why would you throw a monkey wrench into the gears of your base?"

The Times editorial board chimed in with their thoughts on Wednesday, saying, "By selecting a pro-choice running mate, Mr. Bush would also be pulling the party more into alignment with suburban moderates who in numerical terms are more important to the G.O.P. than the anti-abortion movement."

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Meanwhile, Bob Woodward says the man leading Bush's search may ultimately decide that he, himself, is the best option. "I also would not rule out Bush turning to the chairman of his selection committee -- namely, Dick Cheney -- and saying, 'I'd like you to do it,'" Woodward says. When asked if his money was on Cheney, Woodward said, "No, it's not. But 50 cents of my dollar bet is."


Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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