A deep bench

Last week I lamented that many of the top prospects for the number two spot on the Republican ticket seem like “nearly men” — candidates who are just a flaw or two away from being assets to John McCain. Thus, Tom Ridge’s potential to assist McCain in Pennsylvania is probably offset (or worse) by the impact his position on abortion would have on the conservative base. And Mitt Romney’s potential to assist McCain in Michigan and elsewhere might well be offset by his religion, while his economic expertise might be nullified as an asset by the perception that he’s a ruthless business man.

By contrast, the Democrats appear to have candidates tailor made for whatever niche or gap Barack Obama is interested in filling. Does Obama want a moderate who might help him win Virginia? Two great choices immediately come to mind — Mark Warner the immensely popular ex-Governor and Jim Webb the Senator who might also provide Obama with credibility on military issues. Is Warner committed to a Senate run? Has Webb ruled himself out? No problem; there’s still Tim Kaine, the popular current governor.

But maybe Obama would prefer a moderate from the midwest, say from Indiana which may also be in-play this year. If so, Obama can select Evan Bayh, a mail-order candidate if ever there was one.

Or perhaps Obama wants a Hispanic on the ticket. Here he has at his disposal Bill Richardson who not only fills the ethnic bill but also possesses a sparkling resume of public service (at least if one focuses solely on the positions he’s held). Or Obama can attempt to mitigate the experience gap by selecting Joe Biden. Finally, if Obama is worried about white women over 40 (the group that Dick Morris says represents his Achilles Heel), he can always bite the bullet and select Hillary Clinton.

I shouldn’t overstate my case. The grass often looks greener on the other side, and the candidates I’ve just mentioned are not politically flawless. For example, Tim Kaine, said to be in “serious” talks with Obama, is a first-term governor. Thus, while he should help in Virginia and perhaps among moderates, he reinforces rather than closes the experience gap, a major Obama weakness.

Even so, Obama seems better positioned than McCain to select a running mate who will be a clear asset.

JOHN adds: Maybe so. Do the polls help us answer the question? Probably not, if Rasussen’s surveys are any indication. Rasmussen sampled favorable/unfavorable ratings for potential vice-presidential candidates. He found only one who has a significant positive differential: John Edwards, at +21. Somehow I don’t think that would hold up if Edwards actually got the nod. Other prominent Democrats don’t fare too well; Tim Kaine, the current media pick, is even at 20/20. Remarkably, I think, Kathleen Sebelius is -4, Jim Webb is -6 and Evan Bayh is -9 (21/30). What do the voters have against Evan Bayh? Beats me.

Of course, the picture is no better on the Republican side. The list is topped by the dreaded Mike Huckabee, at +9. Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal are +1 (both 22/21). The rest are in negative territory: Mitt Romney and Charlie Crist are both -6, and Sarah Palin, remarkably, is last at -8 (11/19).

I find this puzzling. What do the voters have against Evan Bayh and Sarah Palin? One can only assume that they have no idea who these people are, but don’t want to admit it, or perhaps are confusing them with someone else. It’s likely a reflection of the mood of the electorate that, when confronted with the name of a politician about whom a respondent knows absolutely nothing, a plurality of respondents say “I disapprove.”

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