It’s easy enough to pinpoint exactly who this year’s Republican vice-presidential candidate should be. Ideally, John McCain’s running mate would have executive experience, yet still seem like a new face on the national political scene. He would support McCain’s hyper-orthodoxy on Iraq, but also his heterodoxy on climate change and immigration. He would be plugged into serious money and able to help McCain and the party raise funds. He would have a record of beating Democrats in a traditionally Democratic state, forcing Barack Obama to play defense. He would be a public speaker that crowds enjoy hearing. He would give the ticket a shot of virility. He would radiate a love for America, and for his spouse.
That candidate actually exists — but Arnold Schwarzenegger is not eligible for the post. So here’s a look at the actual GOP contenders, in order of who’s most likely to score a spot on the ticket. In the following summaries, “Google Meter” refers to the number of hits you get when you enter the candidate’s name, “John McCain” and “vice-president” into Google. — Peter Keating
Governor Charlie Crist (Florida)
Google Meter: 90,300
Education: B.A., Florida State; J.D., Cumberland School of Law
Pros: Popular, tax-cutting governor of the biggest swing state; gave McCain a huge boost in the critical Florida primary; probably will have strong loyalty among 800,000 non-violent felons whose voting rights Crist has restored; in sync with McCain on the need to address climate change; extremely charming; only 51 and perpetually tanned, but silver hair reduces how different he and McCain appear in age.
Cons: His changing stance on abortion (from pro-choice to pro-life) and aversion to picking fights on social issues make some conservatives suspicious; has denied an allegation that he fathered a daughter in a one-night stand in 1988 and rumors that he is gay.
Bottom Line: If he’s not at the top of list, he should be.
Governor Tim Pawlenty (Minnesota)
Google Meter: 58,300
Education: B.A., University of Minnesota; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School
Pros: One of very few Republicans to win in a blue state in 2006; has built a record of holding the line on taxes and strongly opposing illegal immigration.
Cons: Unknown nationally; Minnesota may already be out of reach for McCain.
Bottom Line: Not hugely compelling, but he has a serious chance because he would satisfy social conservatives on a number of fronts without offending other blocs.
Governor Sarah Palin (Alaska)
Google meter: 25,000
Education: B.A.(Journalism), University of Idaho
Pros: Shares with McCain a hatred for the corruption personified by Senator Ted Stevens, the longtime king of Alaska politics and Senate pork; has a son in the Army; former Miss Alaska contestant; lifetime member of the NRA; eats moose burgers; rides snowmobiles.
Cons: Just 44 years old; has just two years of experience as governor of one of the nation’s least populous states.
Bottom Line: A dark horse for the moment, but keep an eye on this coming superstar. She could help in the Mountain West, and she’s someone around whom right-wingers may soon realize they would be happy to coalesce around.
Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
Google Meter: 83,300
Religion: Southern Baptist
Education: B.A.(Psychology), University of South Carolina; J.D., University of South Carolina
Pros: From endorsing McCain in 2000 to joining the anti-filibuster “Gang of 14” senators to supporting the immigration-reform bill sponsored by McCain and Ted Kennedy, he is a definitive McCain Republican; former military prosecutor in the Air Force JAG Corps.
Cons: Right-wingers dislike his occasional independence; lifelong bachelorhood has triggered gay-baiting rumors.
Bottom Line: He would have made a great running mate for McCain eight years ago; this time around, the ticket will need a broader boost to McCain’s appeal than a white southern male can provide.
Governor Bobby Jindal (Louisiana)
Google Meter: 124,000
Religion: Roman Catholic
Education: B.A.(Biology and Public Policy), Brown; M.A.(Political Science), Oxford
Pros: Wunderkind who turned Louisiana’s Medicaid program from bankruptcy to surpluses in the nineties; right-wing darling; Indian-American son of Punjabi immigrants; winning smile and personality; actual name is “Piyush,” but he took the nickname “Bobby” after watching The Brady Bunch as a 4-year-old.
Cons: Only 37; uncomfortably extreme social conservative; wrote an article in 1994 detailing his participation in an exorcism.
Bottom Line: He’s a collection of Heritage Foundation policy papers with a human face, which would put meat on McCain’s policy bones, and he’s a great story, but he’s probably too young to put on the ticket in a year when the Republicans want to blast Obama as inexperienced. Expect, however, an Obama-like shot at introducing himself to the nation at the GOP convention.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Washington, D.C.)
Google Meter: 315,000
Education: B.A.(Political Science), University of Denver; M.A.(Political Science), Notre Dame; Ph.D. (Political Science), University of Denver
Pros: Megawattage celebrity stardom; as an African-American woman, would radically balance the ticket.
Cons: Has presided over one of the most disastrous foreign policies in American history; has never run for public office; unknown views on domestic issues.
Bottom Line: A wild card; McCain is running as fast as he can away from everyone associated with the Bush administration, but if he needs a home run by convention time, who knows?
Former Governor Mitt Romney (Massachusetts)
Google Meter: 225,000
Education: B.A., Brigham Young University; J.D./M.B.A., Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School
Pros: Still a favorite among the socially conservative chattering classes who populate Websites like the Corner; could help carry states in the Mountain West.
Cons: McCain loathes him and has openly laughed at his vice-presidential pretensions; many Evangelicals distrust his Mormonism; lengthy record of flip-flops; ran astoundingly poor presidential campaign.
Bottom Line: It’s hard to imagine McCain spending the next five months in close quarters with someone for whom he has so little respect, much less putting him a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Former Representative Rob Portman (Ohio)
Google Meter: 20,500
Education: B.A.(Anthropology), Dartmouth; J.D., University of Michigan Law School
Pros: A rare Bush-administration policy wonk, has displayed sanity and smarts as U.S. trade representative and OMB chief, as he did as Bush 41’s director of legislative affairs.
Cons: A consummate insider in a year of change; endorsed by David Brooks.
Bottom Line: The kind of guy McCain will need to help run the government if he wins, but not likely to win him many votes before November.
Senator Joe Lieberman (Connecticut)
Google Meter: 293,000
Religion: Orthodox Judaism
Education: B.A.(Politics and Economics), Yale; L.L.B., Yale Law School
Pros: War hawk; gets along well with McCain; has already assumed, and seems to relish, traditional veep role of attack dog; status as turncoat Democrat would generate dramatic sizzle.
Cons: Has a decades-long voting record supporting Democratic positions on non-Iraq issues, from abortion to tax cuts; could actually hurt McCain in Connecticut, where Lieberman’s approval rating among Independents is under 50 percent; sanctimoniousness wears awfully thin.
Bottom Line: As an echo where McCain is already loud and a lifelong Democrat where McCain is already having problems with the GOP base, he is more likely to end up secretary of Defense than vice-president.
Former Governor Mike Huckabee (Arkansas)
Google Meter: 610,000
Religion: Southern Baptist
Education: B.A.(Religion), Quachita Baptist University
Pros: Could help McCain among Evangelicals; terrific retail campaigner; he and McCain remained friendly even while campaigning against each other in the spring; populist in a year of economic turmoil; knows how to fry squirrel.
Cons: Economic conservatives don’t like his anti-corporate shtick; mixing Baptist theology and politics as thoroughly as he does doesn’t play well outside the Republican primary electorate; while speaking at an NRA meeting in May, cracked a joke about someone aiming a gun at Barack Obama.
Bottom Line: Won’t happen. Many Evangelicals are wary of McCain, but Republican fund-raisers don’t take Huckabee seriously. And McCain isn’t planning on aiming his campaign at the Bible Belt, anyway.
Former Governor Tom Ridge (Pennsylvania)
Google Meter: 48,300
Religion: Roman Catholic
Education: B.A., Harvard; J.D., Dickinson School of Law
Pros: Was a popular governor of a state McCain would love to compete in; decorated Vietnam veteran.
Cons: Difficult tenure as secretary of Homeland Security; somnolent public speaker; pro-choice.
Bottom Line: Anyone who thinks McCain is ambivalent about abortion is in for a rude awakening — he’s already said that “respect and cherishing of the right of the unborn” essentially eliminates Ridge’s chance to be on the ticket.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (New York)
For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.