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The Nearly Men

British sportswriters sometimes refer to an athlete as “a nearly man.” The phrase is not an attack on the subject’s masculinity, but rather a reference to the fact that he had the promise of greatness but didn’t quite deliver. Former Everton starlet Francis Jeffers is a nearly man. Kieron Dyer, as well.

The “nearly man” label comes to mind when I think of potential running mates for John McCain. There are a few who look like they could be “home runs” (make that “doubles,” there hasn’t been a home run since Lyndon Johnson in 1960), but who on closer analysis seem to come up short.

Mitt Romney offers the promise of boosting McCain in several states, of adding economic expertise to the ticket, and, frankly, of helping to finance the campaign. But he lacks the common touch, and his religion could hurt the ticket.

Mike Huckabee has the common touch in spades and, by mobilizing evangelical voters, could energize the campaign and give it needed foot soldiers. But Huckabee won’t help McCain, and could easily hurt him, with moderate voters in big swing states.

Tom Ridge might very well help McCain in some of those states, especially Pennsylvania where Ridge was a popular governor. He has also has a great resume. But his pro-abortion stance would alienate voters McCain has to have.

Bobby Jindal is, in many ways, the perfect running mate. But he’s a little too young and little too inexperienced.

And so on.

What does this mean for McCain? Probably that he should forget about trying to make a major splash with his selection for VP (Joe Lieberman, bless him, is not even a nearly man — he’s not nearly a non-liberal), and make his decision on the basis of credentials, respect and affinity. This, I assume, is what McCain wants to do anyway.

Who benefits from this approach? I have no way of knowing. Perhaps Tim Pawlenty. He’s a bit of a nearly man himself in that I suspect he would help McCain nearly carry Minnesota. But Pawlenty has no apparent downside the way Romney, Huckabee, Ridge, Jindal, and others do. Whether McCain has a high regard for him, though, I do not know.

SCOTT adds: Most of those thought to be likely vice presidential candidates on Senator McCain’s ticket seem equally likely to subtract from the ticket as to add to it. Among the few who in my estimation would almost certainly do no harm is Governor Pawlenty. CNN reports that Senator McCain cryptically stated at a private meeting of delegates in New Hampshire this week that they were “really going to like [Pawlenty].” For what it’s worth, McCain named Pawlenty cochair of his campaign last year and we have every reason to believe that he thinks highly of him.

PAUL adds: So if I had to place a bet, I guess I’d place it on Pawlenty, though not against the entire rest of the field.

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