Discussion of potential Obama running mates heats up

The people helping Barack Obama choose a vice-presidential nominee were on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but one prominent possibility took his name out of the running.

Published June 11, 2008 12:31AM (EDT)

Two of the people charged with helping Barack Obama select a running mate were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, talking with Democratic members of Congress about potential vice-presidential nominees. A list of names they've reportedly been discussing has reignited buzz about the subject.

NBC's Chuck Todd and Domenico Montanaro reported a list of names the two Obama volunteers discussed during their meetings. Those names are Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, Kathleen Sebelius, Ted Strickland, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Jim Webb, Bill Nelson, Jack Reed, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Tom Daschle and Sam Nunn.

Another name on Todd and Montanaro's list is a surprising one: retired Gen. James Jones, a former Marine who once commanded NATO forces. Todd and Montanaro say his name "invited extended discussion," as did Sen. Biden and Ohio Gov. Strickland. But Politico's Jonathan Martin has thrown some cold water on the Jones idea, noting that John McCain has previously described Jones as one of his closest friends and said he thought the retired general would "play a key role" in a McCain administration. Jones is also an outside advisor to McCain.

Separately, Strickland has taken himself out of the running for the slot. He has been talked about as a serious veep contender for a while now because he governs a swing state and was a Clinton supporter. But on Tuesday, Strickland gave what's known in the business as a "Shermanesque statement," named for Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who said, when he was being considered for the Republican presidential nomination of 1884, "If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve." In an interview with NPR, Strickland repeated Sherman's words, then said, "I don't know how more crystal clear I can be."

Beyond Strickland's exit and what seems like a big roadblock to choosing Jones, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports that his sources tell him Todd and Montanaro's list isn't exactly accurate. "I trust Chuck Todd's sources better than my own, but I'm hearing that the list of names he's floating is a bit narrow," Ambinder wrote on his blog, "and that [Jim] Johnson and [Eric] Holder discussed a variety of different names ... Also, several of the names on Todd's list were brought up by the Democrats who were asked, not necessarily by Johnson and Holder." Ambinder also says there were at least two former military officers besides Jones who were discussed. (It's possible that Webb could be one of those, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, has been talked about in the media as one possible vice-presidential candidate.)

Discussion of this subject, and potential running mates for McCain, isn't likely to die down before the actual choices are announced. But -- especially with the examples of Jones and Strickland in mind -- it's worth remaining skeptical about the names being discussed, and remembering that some names may be out there to mollify certain constituencies, to float trial balloons or just for good, old-fashioned misinformation purposes.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Jim Webb War Room