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Does Lieberman-as-Veep Have Legs? « The Washington Independent

When Sen. John McCain first floated the possibility of picking a pro-choice running mate — which many conservatives instinctively said would be disastrous for his chances in November — it seemed pretty clearly to be a signal to moderate voters: a wink and a nudge that, as president, he would be willing to make great compromises. In an interview with The Weekly Standard’s Steve Hayes two weeks ago, McCain spoke specifically in terms of picking former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge for the No. 2 slot on the GOP ticket, but he could have just as easily been talking about his close friend, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.):

“I think that the pro-life position is one of the important aspects or fundamentals of the Republican Party,” McCain said. “And I also feel that–and I’m not trying to equivocate here–that Americans want us to work together.”

Less than a week later, with Sen. Barack Obama expected to name his running mate any day, The National Review reported that McCain had been quietly seeking advice from Republican leaders around the country to gauge the fallout from such a choice. It then seemed to be a head-fake targeting the Obama campaign, trying to push the presumed Democratic nominee to select a more unconventional running mate if he was considering a relatively safe pick.

Now that Obama has made a safe choice with Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the rumors continue that McCain may very well be considering Lieberman. In his column in The New York Times Monday, Bill Kristol promoted the idea of a McCain-Lieberman ticket as a much better option for pro-life conservatives than an Obama-Biden administration.

But today, Robert Novak came out of his brain tumor-induced retirement to announce that Lieberman is personally lobbying McCain against choosing him. Novak also suggested that the thinking among pro-Lieberman elements within the McCain campaign reflects a notion that the coalition that twice elected President George W. Bush is dead:

McCain’s top strategists argue that the Bush coalition that won the last two presidential elections is dead and must be replaced by a new one that extends to the left, as Lieberman would. Bush strategists disagree, asserting that McCain is getting around 90 percent of the old Bush vote and can win the election with a few moderates added in.

Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports that Lieberman’s people adamantly deny that their man has said any such thing to McCain — perhaps Novak has once again been taken in by a source with a juicy tidbit and an agenda.

This is where we now stand. It appears — as Martin writes — that Lieberman is still very much on the table. Personal relationships are important to McCain — and none of his Senate colleagues have proven themselves more loyal than Lieberman. However, now that Obama has made a safe pick, it seems likely that McCain would follow suit and make a conventional choice as well — so as to not upset the Republican base. But the reverse could also be true: with the Democratic ticket sitting squarely on the left, as both men rank among the nation’s most liberal senators, there could be room for McCain to pick up more votes in the moderate middle — but again, this would run the risk of severely alienating the right.

It is also noteworthy that the McCain campaign announced the Arizona senator will appear with his running mate at several high-profile rallies throughout the weekend. It has also already said that both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will share the stages. Romney is widely believed to be the front-runner for the vice presidential nomination, so it is a bit odd that the campaign would specifically name him if he is to be chosen. Of course, this could be just another head-fake.

The bottom line is that nobody really knows what’s going to happen, except the people at the highest echelon of the McCain campaign. Fortunately, the answer will be revealed by week’s end, but the fact that Lieberman’s name is still being aggressively circulated — long after it would produce any clear political benefit as a fake-out — is very curious indeed.

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