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The Mating Game II

Having talked in this space last week about George W. Bush's many options for a vice-presidential running mate, this week let's look 'em over for Al Gore.

Gore doesn't have as broad a range of possibilities as Bush. For openers, Democrats are the minority party in both houses of Congress and they don't have as many governors in big swing states. However, they have held the White House for the past eight years, and that has also winnowed the field. Clinton ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination in l996 and Al Gore faced only Bill Bradley this year. All of which means that top-echelon Democrats have not had much opportunity to raise their profiles in recent years.

What does Gore hope to gain from his choice of running mate? He's obviously much more of a known quantity to voters than is George W. Bush, so there will be less of a temptation to draw far-reaching inferences about a Gore presidency from his vice presidential selection. If one looks at the symbolic import of a Gore pick, it's probably this: choosing his own veep will be another good step toward emerging from the shadow of Bill Clinton. In other words, filling the number two spot should help Gore look more like number one. Of course, one can go too far with this strategy, as many felt George Bush did in selecting little-known Indiana Senator Dan Quayle in 1988.

Right now, many think Gore is looking to Indiana as well. Longtime Gore friend Evan Bayh, senator from and former governor of the state, is on nearly everyone's list of maybes because he's an attractive, articulate young Democrat who has won big elections in a normally Republican state and has real accomplishments in his resume. And he's someone Gore genuinely likes and has felt close to for a long while. Mrs. Gore likes him, and their families get along.

Bayh, like Gore, is a son a former Democratic power. His father, Birch Bayh, once was a nationally known senator from Indiana who had a try at the presidency in his prime.

No chance Bayh would overshadow Gore and Gore would never have to worry about his loyalty. True, Indiana has only 12 electoral votes, but in what's shaping up as a close race, Gore will have to look hard at any help he can get in the Republican-leaning upper Midwest where many believe the whole election may, in the end, be decided.

So no one writes Bayh off. After him, one quickly finds oneself in "anyone's guess" territory.

But we can make some educated guesses, starting with the sine qua non of a Gore win, California: Gore will not chose Governor Gray Davis. If he does, it's a sure-fire sign the campaign's in serious trouble. Because if California is in play, then Bush can start measuring the drapes for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Senator Dianne Feinstein gets some mention, too, because she might represent a chance to regain the Democratic advantage in the so-called gender gap. Would what some people believe are potential problems with her husband's real estate dealings ultimatel scare away the cautious Gore? Who knows?

What we do know is that Walter Mondale's choice of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, which did not turn out so well, is bound to enter Gore's thinking.

After the California crew, electoral strategy suggests a handful of additional names: Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is obscure but has loyalty to Clinton and a big Midwestern state behind him. Senator Joseph Lieberman has independent appeal and might help in the swing state of Connecticut but seems a rather colorless choice to stake the farm on. Florida Senator and former Governor Bob Graham could force Bush to fight for one of his must-win states, but until Gore shores up his base, messing with his opponent seems a luxury he can ill afford.

What Gore seems to really need, though, is someone who could bring a spark of excitement to his campaign, a running mate who would make the ticket appear to be more than the sum of its parts or provide something approaching frisson. Someone who might get voters to take another look at the candidacy of Al Gore.

Whom might that be, among the Democrats? Well, Bill Bradley would be a surprise choice to many, and his reformer label and solid experience could help attract independents. But it is far from certain that Bradley could carry his home state of New Jersey, and the rancor of the primary campaign apparently still lingers so he must, at this writing, be put in the "possible but not probable" category.

Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo's name gets mentioned now and again. But, given his thin resume, it's difficult to know exactly why, other than he's good looking, tied to the Kennedy mystique through marriage, and seems to be a Gore family favorite.

So let's cut to the core. Gore needs a heavyweight, and someone who will help him drive home his bedrock message, which is: It's still the economy, stupid.

That's why we wrote earlier in the year that Gore has to have a serious look at former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Lately, a few others have begun to write this. (No, we are not suggesting that they're picking up on our earlier stuff. We'd love to believe that, but there's no empirical evidence it's true).

Rubin is brilliant, loyal and rock solid. He is not the kind of man likely to make any big mistakes on the campaign trail. Moreover, Rubin is a big, respected name on Wall Street who can gather campaign contributions otherwise closed off to Gore. And because, along with Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, he is an architect of the amazing economic health of the Clinton-Gore years, he'd be the next best thing to having Greenspan on the ticket.

Rubin could help Gore stay focused on and drive home his message that, "if you like the economy, what you want is another Democratic presidency" in the crucial industrial Midwest and elsewhere.

We've said it before and now say it again: Gore may not, in the end, choose Rubin. But he has to give him serious consideration. He's too smart nt to.