Sunday, May 07, 2000

Bush-Voinovich ticket? Just maybe

        The vice president of the United States, said Thomas Marshall, who held the job under Woodrow Wilson, is like a man in a cataleptic state.

        “He cannot speak, he cannot move, he suffers no pain,” Marshall said. “Yet He is perfectly conscious of everything going on around him.”

        Well, some more than others, we suppose.

        Nevertheless, we are not only electing a president in the year 2000, but a vice president, and they are creatures who have an alarming tenden cy in our republic to become president some day.

        Five of the last 10 presidents had previously held that office, after all.

        If the Al Gore/George W. Bush contest ends up being as close a presidential election as most card-carrying pundits believe, the choice will have less to do with issues and compatibility than it does with simple geography.

        One candidate in an election in which the popular vote is likely to be close will have to win a combination of states with a total 270 electoral votes to win.

        That being the case, here are our predictions on who the running mates will be:

        For the Democrats: U.S. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida.

        For the Republicans: Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania.

        Or, just maybe, Ohio's own Republican junior senator, George V. Voinovich.

        Here's how it works:

        California is the big prize, with 54 electoral votes. Win that, and you're one-fifth of the way home.

        Mr. Bush is going to campaign hard there, but the conventional wisdom says he can't win.

        That means he will have to win his home state, Texas (32 electoral votes), and the state where his brother Jeb is governor, Florida (25 electoral votes) to offset California. The former is a lock for Mr. Bush; the latter is not.

        Governor Jeb has had a rough time of it lately; his move to ban affirmative action in Florida has African-American and many Hispanic voters fit to be tied. During the Elian Gonzalez psychodrama in Miami, Governor Jeb was tongue-tied. He didn't weigh in until after the little Cuban boy had been whisked away by federal agents. Many of his Cuban-American supporters wonder where he was.

        All this has led many Democrats to believe Mr. Gore will turn to Mr. Graham, the senior senator from Florida, a former governor who has beat the pants off every Republican who has tried to take him on. If Mr. Gore were to win both California and Florida, it might be lights out for Dubya.

        But even if Dubya hangs on in Florida, the election could come down to a string of states that ring the Great Lakes — Ohio (21 elector al votes), Pennsylvania (23), Michigan (18) and Illinois (22).

        Two Ohioans — Mr. Voinovich and U.S. Rep. John Kasich — will probably make the Bush semi-short list. Of the two, only Mr. Voinovich is enough of a household name to help Mr. Bush in Ohio.

        In the end, though, the Bush campaign may not need Mr. Voinovich; it may depend on the Ohio Republican Party's considerable get-out-the-vote machine.

        Which leaves Gov. Ridge. Popular. A Vietnam War combat vet, he wasn't flying Air National Guard planes around Texas, like his friend Dubya. Tough on crime. Tax-cutter.

        He could end up being quite a bit more than just the official host of the Republican National Convention this summer in Philadelphia.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.