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Monday, April 05, 2004

McCain-Kerry thoughts

The blogger once known as "Calpundit," Kevin Drum, joined the fray yesterday and speculated about John McCain as John Kerry's running mate.

Rather than again speculating about the political possibilities, I decided to think about the implications of such a choice. There would be many, I think, and some would be bad -- despite the view expressed by columnist Joe Klein that this would be a bold and "ideal step" by Kerry, though Klein concedes the move is a "fantasy."

Obviously, picking McCain would be a huge story for the news media. McCain would provide Kerry with a very powerful national voice to counter Bush and Cheney. The Arizona Senator is viewed as a "straight talker" who was quite popular with the media in his own 2000 primary campaign.

McCain's party switch would also send a strong signal to potentially dissatisfied Republicans -- or at least Republican-leaning moderates -- out there: "It's safe to vote for Kerry."

Furthermore, such a move would probably seal Arizona for Kerry (a state he might win anyway). If Kerry could carry all the other Gore states, he would thus win the 2004 Electoral College vote 270-268. See for yourself with this helpful map.

Still, McCain is a longtime Republican and his conservative voting record would likely not sit well with most Democrats. Kos had the details on McCain's voting record Saturday. Drum says this isn't that big of a deal since McCain is "practically a Democrat already" on certain kinds of issues (the budget deficit, Kyoto) and Kerry is likely to govern as a centrist on Iraq and would have little control over Republican base issues like abortion policy. Timothy Noah had a piece in 2002 in Slate arguing that McCain is really a Democrat, so this is not an entirely new idea.

I'm nonetheless guessing that at minimum, the Nader-leaning, Green, lefty Democrats would very strongly dislike such a move. Even a common goal -- beating Bush -- might not be enough justification for it. After all, the Veep gets to vote in tied Senate outcomes and would succeed the President in case of death or incapacitation.

Plus, McCain's strength is precisely the Democrats' fear. What if McCain speaks out against some core Democratic issues, just because he is McCain and does this sort of thing? Any close election requires very strong party discipline and the Dems cannot afford either to tick off their base or push away Democratic-leaning independents.

Conceivably, McCain on the ticket might depress Democratic voting in a state or two they will need in 2004 -- like Oregon. Arizona has 3 more electoral votes than Oregon, but Democrats need to keep Oregon and add states if they want to win. This swap isn't enough.

Bottom line: Kerry should not pick McCain unless he gets a firm commitment from the Senator to toe the Democratic party line through November. He needs to be an outspoken critic of Bush and Cheney and keep quiet about his disagreements with Democrats.

He probably also has to switch parties formally in order to run as a Democrat on many state ballots.

Question to ponder: could Kerry achieve the benefits of roping in McCain by announcing in a couple of months that the Senator would be his Secretary of Defense?

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