With two months still to go before the national conventions, amid all the initial media buzz about vice-presidential candidates, one thing is clear: Barack Obama has an unusually wide array of possible running mates. Obama is as starkly unusual a presidential contender as the country has ever seen, which means he can choose either to amplify or offset any of the characteristics that define his own candidacy. As a young, African-American, midwestern outsider with little executive and no military experience, maybe he needs to balance his ticket with an older person and/or white person and/or Southerner and/or Washington hand and/or governor and/or general — or maybe his wants to build his own brand of national Democrat from scratch. That’s a lot of variables, and as a result, there are at least 25 Democrats whose names have plausibly been mentioned as potential veeps.
Here’s your guide to the top dozen, in order their chances of being picked. Note: “Google Meter” means the number of hits you get if you enter the candidate’s name, “Barack Obama” and “vice-president” into Google. — Peter Keating
Governor Kathleen Sebelius (Kansas)
Google Meter: 84,000
Religion: Roman Catholic
Education: B.A., Trinity Washington University; M.P.A.(Public Administration), University of Kansas
Pros: Effective governor who has masterfully exploited the split between moderates and right-wingers among Kansas Republicans; so popular that the former chairman of the state GOP switched parties and ran as her lieutenant governor in 2006; attacked by Robert Novak as a “pro-choice poster girl,” though abortions in Kansas have declined 8.5 percent since she took office.
Cons: Lack of foreign-policy experience; response to Bush’s 2008 State of the Union address was a rather severe dud.
Bottom Line: Obama-Sebelius would have great heartland appeal. The big question is whether Hillary supporters who don’t want any other woman on the ticket before Clinton will try to torpedo her chances.
Former Senator John Edwards (North Carolina)
Google Meter: 317,000
Education: B.A.(Textile Technology), North Carolina State; J.D., University of North Carolina Law School
Pros: Boosts the Democratic ticket far more than any other vice-presidential nominee in early polls; his advocacy of the downtrodden is admired by Obamafans and Clintonistas alike.
Cons: His long wait before endorsing Obama has led to suspicion that Elizabeth Edwards is not fully onboard; didn’t help John Kerry much in 2004, particularly when it came to fending off slimy attacks.
Bottom Line: A.G. is more likely than V.P.
Governor Bill Richardson (New Mexico)
Google Meter: 465,000
Religion: Roman Catholic
Education: B.A.(French and Political Science), Tufts; M.A.(International Affairs), Tufts
Pros: Popular governor of a swing state that George W. Bush carried in 2004; Hispanic; crossed the Clintons to endorse Obama at a key moment of the campaign; international negotiator who has won the release of prisoners in hot spots from Cuba to North Korea; immensely charming.
Cons: Fairly terrible on TV; never caught fire with voters in 2008; uncertain influence among Hispanics outside New Mexico; Diane Denish, his lieutenant governor, said in 2005 that she tried not to stand or sit next to him because he touched her too much, including on the hip, thigh and “sort of the side of my leg.”
Bottom Line: Obama, who’s partial to Lincolnesque touches, has signaled he will adopt a team-of-rivals approach to his former foes. As with Edwards, expect Obama to offer Richardson, Senator Joe Biden (Delaware), and possibly Senator Chris Dodd (Connecticut) Cabinet posts — not the vice-presidency.
Senator Jim Webb (Virginia)
Google Meter: 234,000
Religion: U.S. Naval Academy; J.D., Georgetown.
Pros: Former Navy Secretary and Marine who has blasted the Iraq war; upset victory over George “Macaca” Allen in 2006 gave Democrats control of the Senate and made him a national celebrity; secured final approval last week of his GI bill, giving free tuition at public universities to veterans; genuine thinker about military and economic issues whose Born Fighting chronicles the Scotch-Irish in America; his son, also a Marine, has served in Iraq; a 2006 conversation with Bush, who asked him twice how his “boy” was, left him wanting to “slug” the president; decorated Vietnam veteran.
Cons: Has only been a Democrat since 2006; despite his battling persona, is actually more popular among Obama-style liberals than red-county moderates and conservatives; the half-dozen novels he has written contain a smattering of lurid scenes; wrote an article called “Women Can’t Fight” in 1979, stridently opposing allowing females to serve in combat.
Bottom Line: Favorite of the moment: Intrade puts his veep chances at 21.9 percent, higher than any other candidate. But his independence, ambition, and love of his Senate platform make it more likely that he’ll follow former Governor Mark Warner (Virginia) and Governor Ted Strickland and take himself out of the running than subordinate himself to another man’s agenda.
Governor Tim Kaine (Virginia)
Google Meter: 70,600
Religion: Roman Catholic
Education: B.A.(Economics), University of Missouri; J.D., Harvard Law School
Pros: Early and enthusiastic Obama supporter, in a state Obama won big in February and wants to compete in come November; underdog who won statewide in 2005 by running strongly in Republican exurbs as well as heavily African-American cities; as mayor of Richmond, helped create Project Exile, getting guns off streets by prosecuting firearms-related crimes in federal court; took a year off from Harvard Law School to work in Honduras as a Catholic missionary.
Cons: Pro-life; just three years of experience as governor.
Bottom Line: Sleeper pick whose selection would indicate Obama is going for broke and aiming for a realigning election.
Governor. Phil Bredesen (Tennessee)
Google Meter: 15,200
Education: B.S.(Physics), Harvard
Pros: Popular border-state governor with a centrist reputation; has expanded health care, hiked teacher pay, and improved job training while balancing budgets; advocate of open government who has enacted strict ethics reforms; founding member of Nashville’s Table, which collects food for the homeless from restaurants; ran a successful health-care management company in the eighties; college degree in physics from Harvard.
Cons: Hospitalized in 2006 with a 104-degree fever for a condition that was never diagnosed.
Bottom Line: He has the substance to be the next Al Gore, but hardly anybody on the national scene has noticed yet, apparently including Obama.
Retired General Wesley Clark (Arkansas)
Google Meter: 134,000
Religion: “I’m Catholic, but I go to a Presbyterian church.”
Education: U.S. Military Academy; B.A.(Philosophy, Politics and Economics), Oxford University
Pros: Clinton surrogate, but didn’t campaign intemperately against Obama; is the only military choice who has already been through a national campaign; was an early favorite of many Netroots Democrats; former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO; led Western forces in the Kosovo War; decorated Vietnam veteran; Rhodes Scholar; valedictorian of his class at West Point.
Cons: Rocky 2004 presidential run not only failed to connect with Democratic primary voters, it left many members of the media scorning him as an amateur.
Bottom Line: Looked great as recently as April, but it’s starting to seem as though Obama feels he can tap the political and financial support of major Clinton backers without having to put them on the ticket. The smart bet now: Obama doesn’t need Clark or Governor Ed Rendell (Pennsylvania), or Senator Evan Bayh (Indiana), or Governor Tom Vilsack (Iowa).
Former Senator Sam Nunn (Georgia)
Google Meter: 48,100
Education: B.A., Emory University; J.D., Emory University School of Law
Pros: Former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee with serious national-security cred; co-author of the law that provides aid to Russia and other former Soviet Republics for getting rid of their nuclear weapons; endorsed by Jimmy Carter.
Cons: Raging homophobe who undermined the Clinton administration as soon as it took office in 1993 by holding hearings, including televised field visits to military barracks and toilets, to denounce lifting the ban on gays in the military.
Bottom Line: Embodies the conventional wisdom of what a vice-president should be — giving him almost zero chance in this anti-Establishmentarian year.
Senator Hillary Clinton (New York)
Google Meter: 411,000
Education: B.A.(Political Science), Wellesley; J.D., Yale Law School
Pros: Got 18 million votes in the primaries — maybe you heard that somewhere? — demonstrating electoral strength where Obama is weak; superhuman tenacity.
Cons: The most divisive politician in the country not named George W. Bush; husband’s postpresidential business record is a ticking time bomb; though she and Obama seem to get along well enough personally, their staffs and followers deeply want to avoid further engagement.
Bottom Line: If, in the wake of Hillary’s concession, you have lost track of all the racially tinged mud she and her supporters threw during the fight for the nomination, rest assured Michelle Obama has not.
Senator Chuck Hagel (Nebraska)
Google Meter: 177,000
Education: Brown Institute for Radio and Television; B.A., University of Nebraska
Pros: Republican who would make for a dramatic unity ticket, the first since 1864; fierce critic of the Bush White House; voted in 2007 to support withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq; could help Obama pick off an electoral vote or two in Nebraska, which splits EVs by congressional district; decorated Vietnam veteran who once pulled his brother, who was serving in the same unit, out of an exploding vehicle; once showed up at a Halloween meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wearing a Joe Biden mask.
Cons: Despite his rhetoric, has actually voted as a down-the-line conservative on nearly all non-war issues.
Bottom Line: Attractive and sensible enough to make many Democrats want to believe in him, and his willingness to cross party lines will keep him in the limelight. But it will be hard to put a guy with a 12 percent rating from the American Public Health Association, not to mention a zero from NARAL, on the ticket.
Governor Brian Schweitzer (Montana)
Google Meter: 22,500
Religion: Roman Catholic
Education: B.S.(International Agronomy), Colorado State; M.S.(Soil Science), Montana State
Pros: Among the most popular governors in the country, and of a state that used to be deep red; creative booster of alternative energy sources such as bio-diesel and wind turbines; affable, unpretentious rancher who wears blue jeans, cowboy boots, and bolo ties and takes his border collie to work at the state capitol; soil engineer who has worked on international irrigation projects; speaks Arabic.
Cons: Montana has fewer voters than Queens, and he’s been running it for just four years.
Bottom Line: Archetype of a new generation of fighting Democrats, and may make his own bid for national office someday, but no real chance; even Obama can offer the country only so much in-your-face newness.
Retired General James Jones (Missouri)
Google Meter: 26,000
Education: B.S., Georgetown University School of Foreign Service
Pros: Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commandant of the Marine Corps; criticized inadequate troop levels in Afghanistan; has investigated the Iraqi military and police; has served as Middle East peace envoy; decorated Vietnam veteran; played basketball at Georgetown.
Cons: Unknown views on domestic issues; on board of directors at Chevron, one of the worst corporate citizens on the planet.
Bottom Line: Impressive military record, but so unknown nationally that his name was probably leaked to make Obama’s list look intriguing rather than as a serious possibility.
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.