Bush Nearing VP Decision

Friday, July 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In a sign that a decision is near, George W. Bush's top adviser has contacted potential vice presidential candidates and requested to know their whereabouts this weekend.

Republican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that Dick Cheney called several prominent Republicans — Arizona Sen. John McCain, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel among them — to find out how they can be contacted in the next week or so.

Cheney did not disclose whether his call meant the officials were candidates or merely GOP officials owed a courtesy call when the decision is made. Keating and Hagel are mentioned frequently by GOP officials as possible candidates, and McCain less so because of his bitter primary campaign against Bush.

The Texas governor has not revealed his short list, but aides say he could announce his running mate as early as Monday — one week before the GOP presidential convention in Philadelphia.

The names that figure most prominently in the speculation include Cheney himself; Rep. John Kasich of Ohio; Sens. Fred Thompson and Bill Frist of Tennessee; Govs. George Pataki of New York, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Keating, who is getting the most attention from GOP observers.

McCain took himself out of the running in May, a move privately welcomed by Bush after their campaign struggle. But McCain's name is making the rounds again after:

—He and Ridge talked by telephone Tuesday, and the governor urged McCain to accept a spot on the ticket if offered. McCain said he didn't want the job, but told Ridge that if Bush asked ``I would serve,'' according to GOP sources.

—House Republicans began circulating a letter urging Bush to nominate McCain. They say McCain's attractiveness to ticket-splitters and independent voters would help Republicans retain a razor-thin House majority.

— Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., head of the House GOP campaign committee, urged the Arizona senator be given consideration in a phone call earlier this week with Cheney.

The Arizona senator declined to talk about his conversation with Ridge, but told CNN he doesn't expect to be picked. ``It's a hypothetical because I don't believe I'm in the process. But if Governor Bush called I'd certainly like to talk to him about the weather and how things are going and how good a campaign he's running.''

McCain advisers said Thursday night that, despite the developments, they don't think the senator will get the nod because of animosity remaining from his campaign against Bush.

John Weaver, one of McCain's top political advisers, said Friday, ``Hopefully, the governor is taking John at his word that he doesn't want to be asked.''

Sources close to Bush said this week they would be stunned if their boss turned to the maverick senator. However, even his most trusted allies have been largely frozen out of the selection process, thus none of the Bush sources could speak with any authority.

McCain has reportedly expressed similar openness to the vice presidency during private meetings in the past, only to back away from them once the remarks become public. However, McCain raised the stakes higher than ever by opening himself to the job to a fellow candidate, a close friend of Bush's, days before the Texan makes his choice.

The development also puts Bush in a tough position. He carefully maneuvered in the spring to get McCain to publicly rule out his candidacy so that the Arizona senator's supporters would not think Bush was snubbing him. With this latest signal, Bush is almost certain to face questions about McCain if he bypasses the candidate who won seven primaries and drew hundreds of thousands of new voters to the GOP.

The McCain-Ridge conversation is notable for another reason: It reflects the belief among GOP officials that Ridge has fallen out of contention. Though he comes from a key state, his feud with the Catholic church over his abortion-rights position apparently has hurt Ridge's candidacy. Ridge is a Catholic.

The development is also likely to increase speculation surrounding Keating, who is viewed by many in his party as a low-risk choice. He is a Catholic who opposes abortion, a former FBI agent with experience in Washington at two federal agencies.

He gained national attention for his leadership after the Oklahoma City bombing.

``I'm not holding my breath,'' the Oklahoma governor said Thursday.

On the Democratic side, Vice President Al Gore said anew that he has not yet decided his pick. Party sources said Warren Christopher, head of Gore's selection effort, has been asking Democratic lawmakers about the idea of picking former Maine Sen. George Mitchell.

Others thought to be on Gore's list include House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Florida Sen. Bob Graham and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.