Veepstakes Begin

The No. 2 spot on the party tickets may be a crucial consideration this year.

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In this unusual election year, it is hardly premature to talk about the potential running mates of the likely nominees for president.

True, the No. 2 spot rarely helps or hurts the top of the ticket. When George H. W. Bush tapped Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana in 1988, a relative nonentity in the party and the country, Bush still won the election.

This year could be different, given the age, gender, and race of the finalists.

On the GOP side, Sen. John McCain is 71 and will be older than Ronald Reagan was if the senator from Arizona wins the nomination and the presidency. His health is good, but he is obviously old.

And with some right-wing conservatives and evangelicals still unhappy with McCain as their leader, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas could get the nod. He demonstrated real strength in the South on Super Tuesday while McCain was weaker there. Huckabee's popularity among religious voters would be a decided plus for McCain.

Two other moderate GOP governors have stirred some interest. Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, a key state for both parties, is apparently more popular than Jeb Bush, his two-term predecessor. Gov. Tom Pawlenty of Minnesota has won twice in an otherwise Democratic state in the Midwest.

For a wild possibility, how about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? Republicans would escape the subtle racist tag they've been touched with since Richard Nixon's southern strategy in 1968.

Forget former Gov. Mitt Romney. The bad blood between him and McCain may never be resolved.

On the Democratic side, it will be either a woman or an African-American at the top of the ticket and is history-shattering either way.

Will there be a so-called Dream Ticket of Clinton-Obama or vice versa?

Given the realistic prejudices of many voters, it seems unlikely that Democrats would risk trouble to accept that combination. Of course, polls among Democrats will be strongly approving, but independents and disenchanted Republicans could be turned off.

Sen. Hillary Clinton could turn to a governor or former governor. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, although losing in the primaries, shied away from ripping Clinton in the many debates this winter.

Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a once bright-red state turning bluer, has a following. But Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama will have major problems in every southern state.

Former Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa is a possible choice, although his early and strong support of Clinton in the Iowa caucuses did not help her.

Obama's base of Illinois would most likely lead him to the Northeast or the West for a running mate. His lack of foreign policy experience would be helped by either Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware or Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, two also-rans in the primaries.

Richardson is another consideration and would appeal to Hispanics who are not yet won over by Obama.

While the two nominating conventions are still distant events, the guessing game over potential running mates will continue.

A big surprise may come. Remember that when Nixon announced that his choice in 1968 was Gov. Spiro Agnew of Maryland, the response was, "Spiro Who?" Nixon did not want to share center stage with anyone.