While McCain’s aides are tight-lipped about revealing anything related to what has so far been a leak-free process, some of his advisers state a clear preference for not firing the valuable political bullet too soon.
By waiting to make a major announcement in the window after Obama’s much-anticipated acceptance speech Aug. 28 at Invesco Field and before he receives his party’s nomination the following week, for example, McCain would be able to quickly shift the focus of the race following the Democratic convention.
Further, these advisers say, by waiting until the end of the month he could also gauge his pick based both on who Obama selects and what the contours of the race appear to be just two months out from Election Day.
“We’d be stupid to pick before they do,” said one top McCain adviser, speaking about the hush-hush decision on the basis of anonymity. “If they go first, you have more information.”
This source said McCain should take advantage of the “the luxury of having the option,” because of the Republicans’ later convention date.
And, said the adviser, the campaign ought to resist the temptation of making what would amount to a fleeting summer news splash.
“We don’t need a good couple of days — we need a good 60 days.”
Others, though, believe there is value in making the decision sooner.
Some President Bush loyalists, for example, would prefer to see McCain make his choice quickly in order to deputize a high-profile attack dog against Obama now.
The refrain from all those who regularly talk to the campaign is that only McCain knows when he’ll pick.
According to a source in attendance at the Arizona senator’s get-together last weekend at his cabin outside Sedona, the top McCain aides there all said that the candidate has not decided when he would make the announcement.
But the campaign recognizes that they have few opportunities to stage major events sure to draw intense media coverage, and that the vice presidential announcement is one of them.
On the question of timing, one top adviser would only say that it’s “in McCain’s hands to decide on a person and a time.”
“He doesn’t have a deadline — it’s just up to him,” said the adviser.
“All the tactical considerations are not going to persuade McCain,” echoed another source. “He’s going to do it when he wants.”
As for the actual pick, McCain is mulling between two tracks.
“He could pick somebody that is solid and attractive to the base and independents,” said a close McCain adviser. “The other would be transformational.”
In the first, more conventional, category would be politicians including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, neither of whom would raise hackles among conservative activists.
An out-of-the-box move meant to shake up the race in a tough year for the GOP could be tapping Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) or a business leader such as FedEx CEO Frederick Smith.
“He’s honestly torn” between the two options, said the adviser, noting that McCain has probably whittled his choices down to about six or seven names.
William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and an occasional McCain adviser, points out another important choice McCain has in selecting his running mate: “Experience versus Change.”
“Does he double down on experience?” asks Kristol, by selecting a ticket mate with extensive grounding to serve as an effective counterpoint to the first-term senatr atop the Democratic ticket, “Or make a statement on change?” by going with a non-politician or younger politician to underscore the candidate’s commitment to reforming Washington.
While few in the GOP claim to have any insight on which candidates McCain is eyeing most closely, backers of Pawlenty and Romney have been encouraged by the exposure their favorites have gotten in recent weeks.
Representatives for both are officially coy.
“Our office is not involved in any outside political activities related to the presidential campaign or otherwise,” says Pawlenty’s communications director, Brian McClung.
“Gov. Romney expects to be campaigning for John McCain as a supporter of the ticket, not as a member of it,” is the line from Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s longtime spokesman.
But behind the scenes, advocates for both are watching and parsing every McCain statement on the matter and keeping a close eye on the limited news that has emerged, especially as it relates to potential rivals for the slot.
Each prospect has spent considerable time on the road this summer, filling in for McCain at state conventions, party dinners and the like, as well as representing him in television news appearances.
Supporters for both are quick to point out that they only do such surrogacy at the request of the campaign — and that, by the way, the campaign sure does seem to want their guy out there.
Pawlenty, who spent Saturday in Iowa on the stump for McCain and other Republicans, returns to Washington this week to give what is sure to be a well-attended speech Wednesday at the National Press Club on a favorite topic: how the GOP can woo working-class Americans.
Romney, who has also spent time in Washington recently, is on vacation through this week at his Wolfeboro, N.H., vacation home and departs for China on Thursday to attend the Olympics, staying in Beijing until Aug. 20.
If, as some of his advisers hope, McCain waits until after the Democratic convention to make his choice known, he would have a limited window prior to his own convention.
To immediately step on Obama’s convention coverage, McCain could hold an event on Friday, Aug. 29, the day after the Democrat’s acceptance speech.
But Kristol has another suggestion: the Tuesday of the Republican convention week, which happens to be the day after Labor Day, when Americans return to school and work.
The thinking goes: Let Obama have the weekend and then wait until the media hordes descend upon St. Paul. Then, after President Bush speaks on the convention’s opening night, divert attention away from the inevitable stories about the unpopular chief executive with a Tuesday morning announcement.
Should McCain pick a less traditional running mate — or a poorly vetted one — he could be risking a repeat of 1988, when George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle dominated convention coverage, as reporters pelted the candidate and campaign with questions about the little-known Indiana senator's National Guard service.
Then again, while Quayle's selection was a distraction and ultimately a headache for the campaign, it ultimately had little impact on Election Day.