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October 2008

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Veepstakes! (The 20/20 Hindsight Edition)

There has already been a lot of ink spilled about John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President - much of it critical. Nevertheless, some are already framing a likely McCain loss next week through the "what if he had picked someone else" prism, which is silly - not to mention premature - but makes for good fodder.

Among those who've started the second guessing early are Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Steve Kornacki, and, most prominently, Adam Nagourney in yesterday's New York Times.

The first two pieces - and to a lesser extent Nagourney's - single out Mitt Romney as having been the wiser choice for McCain. Hutchinson wrote:

Romney could have made a credible case that as a businessman and a true fiscal conservative who did business the right way, and that's not through banking, stock and brokerage conniving, speculation, wheeling dealing, and fraud. He could have helped ease the fears and the banking and big businesses of even more shocks, meltdowns, and instability. Since much of investor panic even terror is more psychology and perception of more economic doom, this would have been a major GOP and voter selling point.

To the contrary, the Obama campaign was licking its chops at the prospect of Romney on the ticket and would have slammed him as ultra-rich and out of touch (remember the preemptive line about the ticket with 13 houses?). They would have had a field day in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio lobbing accusations that Romney slashed jobs while at Bain Capital. And while Romney may have provided some marginal benefit to McCain in Michigan, it seems clear now that the financial crisis tsunami that shifted the entire electoral map over the last few weeks put Michigan beyond McCain's reach regardless of who was on the ticket.

Interestingly, one name that is missing from these preemptive "what if" discussions about McCain's vice presidential selection is Mike Huckabee. He clearly would have energized the evangelical base as much or more than Palin.

More to the point, Huckabee had been fully vetted by the primary process, is exceedingly likable, and is arguably every bit as eloquent on behalf of conservative principles as Obama is on behalf of liberal ones. There's no question Huckabee's down home economic populism would have played extraordinarily well throughout the financial crisis with working class voters in battleground states.

There's also little question that the media would have portrayed Huckabee as a Bible thumping zealot, or that Huckabee would have ignited the same sort of elite vs. everyman rift in the Republican party that Palin has.

On the other hand, I'm not all convinced, even in hindsight, that a pro-choice pick like Lieberman or Ridge would have McCain in a better spot right now. If anything, I'd be inclined to think the opposite. Tim Pawlenty is a fresh young face with a nice life story, but it's hard to see the base falling as fast or as hard with him as they did with Palin - or would have with Huckabee.

We can argue these things round and round - which is part of the fun. But in the end we'll never know with any degree of certainty that another pick would have made the extra difference for McCain - assuming he doesn't shock the world and win in an upset seven days from now, of course.