Veep Choice Key for McCain

At his age and with his history, the No. 2 spot is more critical.

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For many political campaigns of late, journalists have written about the lack of importance of a vice presidential nominee to any national ticket. The presidential nominee is the focus of the voters' attention with little regard for the second spot, say the so-called experts.

In this unusual campaign year, it may be important, especially for the 71-year-old John McCain, the presumptive GOP candidate.

If elected, McCain will be the oldest to take office in the nation's history. If re-elected in 2012, he would be pushing 80, beyond the average life expectancy of American citizens.

Considering the vexing problems left to the next leader by George W. Bush, it is logical to assume the next four years will be a grueling test. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the terrorism situation, a sluggish economy, and the immigration dilemma are just starters.

Also, McCain could be facing an ever stronger Democratic Congress, adding to his difficulties in governing.

(Permit me to compare myself with McCain on a strictly age basis. I'm five years older and have tried to keep in good condition. But I had a stroke 20 months ago and need a cane to get around. I tire easily, and my memory isn't what it was just a few years ago.)

As for McCain, he went through five tortuous years as a prisoner in North Vietnam. He has had some facial surgery for cancerous sun spots on his face. He has been an active politician for decades in the House and Senate. He ran a vigorous GOP primary campaign for president in 2000 and faces an even sterner test this year.

All of this explains why McCain needs a younger and more robust running mate. The names of Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, Gov. Tom Pawlenty of Minnesota, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, still in the primary race, have been mentioned.

At 51, the popular Crist, in the nation's fourth-largest state, would seem a sound choice. He helped McCain win the Florida primary, and his popularity has stretched over party lines in the Sunshine State.

However, he is a moderate and conservatives may be skeptical. Philip Gailey, the editorial page editor of the St. Petersburg Times, wrote on Sunday that Crist should reject the bid if McCain picks him. Gailey said Crist should "graciously decline," not because he isn't qualified but because he isn't ready at this point in his career for the national stage.

Like Crist, Pawlenty is a moderate who has won twice in usually blue Minnesota. Conservatives would be worried with him.

Huckabee would be an acceptable choice in the South, but McCain should run well in the region anyway.

The bottom line: McCain's choice will be watched closely.