Starting Gate: Who's It Going To Be?

You can feel the anticipation starting to build for more than Michael Phelps' bid for more history this weekend. We'll know within days who Barack Obama will select as his vice presidential running mate and everyone's reading the tea leaves for the slightest clue.

CBS News reports that Obama has scheduled an event in Richmond next Thursday, raising eyebrows about Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. Several of the oft-mentioned contenders will appear on the Sunday shows this week. Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will appear on CBS' "Face the Nation" and Kaine, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge will also pop up on TV Sunday morning.

With the Sunday Shows a crucial part of the political dialogue, such appearances are rightly seen as audition opportunities for these pols. But there's a lot more to the guessing games than that. Trial balloons, real or imagined, are floated and popped almost daily. When John McCain hinted that his somewhat pro-abortion rights position wouldn't disqualify Ridge from a spot on the ticket, the reaction from social conservatives was swift and angry.

These trial balloons can be helpful to the campaigns as a way to judge the kinds of reactions certain candidates might generate, particularly among the kinds of key constituencies who watch the process closely. Some of them may be legitimate, others a little more speculative, like the one recently circulating about John Kerry's prospects. Polling on potential picks is a way to gauge the reaction of the general public or voters in key states on the prospective ticket.

Everyone has a favorite candidate, a pet theory as to what the nominees need to add to their ticket or reasons why they should go in an unexpected direction. But the reality of the process is that modern campaigns have become so good at keeping their choices secret that nobody really knows until they want to reveal it.

Being able to control the timing of the announcement and being in such tight control of the process carries obvious benefits. It allows the campaigns to roll out their picks in a way to ensure the most coverage and all the speculation gives a big boost to those who don't make the cut or, in some cases, were never really considered. What politician doesn't want to have their names connected to such high office?

But there may be risks involved as well. Keeping secrets usually means limiting the number of people privy to the decision-making process. And while a handful of individuals can assess the pluses and minuses of the candidates and examine the reactions and polling data gathered, it can also create some blind spots. Signals can be missed, assumptions unchallenged and things forgotten or overlooked.

As deep and systematic as the vetting process has become, the chances of making big mistakes (see Quayle/Eagleton) are much smaller these days. But even the smallest considerations can get blown up in today's media environment. Stay tuned.

Around The Track

  • All eyes will be on California's Saddleback Church this weekend as both candidates appear with the influential Rick Warren. But not all evangelicals are fans of the pastor's new approach to politics, reports CBSNEws.com's Brian Montopoli.
  • The Obama campaign has released a 40-page response to Jerome Corsi's book, "The Obama Nation." Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said of the book and rebuttal, "his is just one of what will likely be many more lie-filled books rushed to print this election cycle, which are cobbled together from debunked Internet sources to make money and advance a partisan agenda. We will respond to these smears forcefully with all means at our disposal."
  • In a draft opinion, the FEC says that McCain did not violate campaign finance laws when he opted to accept federal money for the general election campaign.
  • In two terms, President Bush has personally raised more than $968 million in his two terms for the Party, GOP candidates and his re-election and inauguration, the AP reports.