We have been so busy advising Sonny Perdue on how to become the Republican vice presidential nominee that we overlooked two obvious Georgia possibilities as the Democratic running mate - former Gov. Roy Barnes or former Sen. Sam Nunn.
Let's make the case for the V.P. slot:
The best V.P. choices are not always those made purely for reasons of geography and ideological balance. The best running mates are often those who help the presidential nominee address a source of voter concern, or who reinforce the presidential candidate's message.
Consider the last two nonincumbent presidential winners: In 2000 George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney, who was actually residing in Bush's home state of Texas at the time, and who hurriedly changed his voter registration back to his native Wyoming to meet the Electoral College requirement that the presidential and vice presidential candidates be from different states. Bush's selection of Cheney reassured voters that a seasoned and capable running mate would adorn the ticket. Cheney had served as secretary of defense under Bush's father, White House chief of staff under President Gerald Ford, and as a Republican leader in Congress.
Then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's choice of then-Sen. Al Gore, from neighboring Tennessee, was likewise brilliant. It reinforced Clinton's message - he chose a bright, relatively moderate young politician who had made a name for himself. The Gore ploy said to a country weary of a recession, budget deficits and other ailments that the Clinton-Gore ticket meant change but not the scary left-wing kind that Washington Democrats have so often tried.
That brings us to this year. If leading candidates decide to look beyond geographic considerations, ex-Gov. Barnes or ex-Sen. Nunn could move into V.P. consideration on the Democratic side. Georgia won't go blue under almost any circumstance. However, Sam or Roy could help either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the fall, even if they can't help win Georgia.
Nunn could be Obama's Cheney. Nunn was the premier Democrat on national security policy during his 24 years in the Senate. He has maintained his profile with his work to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. A Vice President Nunn could reassure voters that the inexperienced Obama will have a trustworthy national security veteran close at hand in a crisis.
As for Clinton, she may need help mending rifts in the Democratic coalition that she and her husband have created with their aggressive campaign against Obama. At this point, she's unlikely to pick Obama, both because of the animus between them, and because the Clinton machine is too risk averse to run the first woman for president on a ticket with the first African-American.
So who else could send a message of racial reconciliation inside the Democratic Party? How about Barnes? The national press has repeatedly reported on how Barnes gave up an easy stroll to a second term by removing the segregation-era Confederate battle emblem from our state flag. The Kennedy family awarded him its Profile in Courage award for that daring and politically disastrous deed. Barnes is close to the national African-American civil rights establishment, which is still largely based in Atlanta. Instead of turning himself into a high-priced lobbyist at a big law firm, Barnes has been practicing law in Marietta, representing aggrieved consumers against corporate bad guys.
Barnes also brings the narrative of Georgia's recent political history to the race. Many Democrats and national observers see the state as ground zero for the hardball Karl Rove-Ralph Reed tactics of this decade. The nasty 2002 race that cost Barnes the governor's office also took down Sen. Max Cleland, the circumstances of whose loss are still a rallying cry for Democrats nationally. Barnes himself was an early victim of the politicized Bush Justice Department. Rick Thompson, the first Bush U.S. attorney in Savannah, was eventually removed for violating the public trust after he issued press releases meant to damage Barnes' and other Democrats' 2002 re-election bids.
Beyond the symbolism he would bring, Barnes is a competent manager who served as governor as long as Jimmy Carter did. He left office with nary a whiff of scandal, and he can turn a phrase in a campaign. Plus, he has the trait most important in a vice president - he's loyal. Among many other examples, witness him sticking by his friend John Edwards to the bitter end.
Wouldn't it be wonderful (for me anyway) if the GOP turned to Sonny for V.P. and the Democrats tapped Roy? We'd have the rematch of the century on a national scale. So what if that is an absurd idea? I can dream, can't I?
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Web address: billshipponline.com.