John McCain must envy Barack Obama. The who does just three things: Appeal to centrists and moderates, bolster his foreign-policy weak spot and not turn off the base. Plenty of potential VPs can do that.
McCain, meanwhile, needs a running mate who can do roughly a dozen things: reassure skittish evangelicals, deliver a key state, shore up his weakness on economics, appeal to swing voters, attract women, be an acceptable conservative standard-bearer, add energy to the ticket, and on and on. ... Yet no potential veep can do all of these things, and only a few can do most of them. The advantage for McCain is that, as the stodgy underdog, he has to think big, while the perhaps too-exciting Obama seems sure to play it safe. To follow: a guide to the most-discussed candidates for the job.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney R-Massachusetts
Hugh Hewitt, the right-wing wonkosphere, Mormons, CEOs, McCain-wary Bush donors, millionaires with important hair
Low. Though he could exponentially increase the "Hey, look at the dull white guys!" factor
Safest of the bold picks
Former Rep. Rob Portman R-Ohio. Director of the Office of Management and Budget, 2005-07
Medium: Provincial political experience and no foreign policy; putting her young kids through the wringer may not fly
Savvy former beauty queen from the most outsider state has a great story and solid pro-life credentials; could be a home run
Carly Fiorina McCain advisor, former Hewlett-Packard chief
Women, media, Chamber of Commerce crowd
Conservatives who think a record of conservatism is really important
High: Smooth talker, too smooth; never say "Viagra" in connection with oldest candidate ever
If McCain goes for a woman, she seems to be his favorite
Sen. Tom Coburn R-Oklahoma
Barack Obama, social conservatives, GOP rank and file
Independents, moderates, swing Democrats
Medium: Delivers no states; makes Bob Portman seem sexy
Would rev up the base and bolster McCain's pork-buster rep
Sen. John Thune R-South Dakota
Republicans who loved seeing him take out Majority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004
Anyone who didn't
Low: Attractive, relatively safe
Earmarking junior senator doesn't help the McCain narrative
Rep. Marsha Blackburn R-Tennessee
Everyone who says, "If only Tom Coburn was female"
Liberals who think conservative women are traitors
Low: She'd please the base while putting the gender card in play
The safest of the female picks
Former Gov. Jeb Bush R- Florida
Bush loyalists, Floridians, Latinos, GOP establishment, wonks, many conservatives
Those inclined to self-immolate at the prospect of hearing the name "Bush" for 4 to 16 more years
Stratospheric: Best governor of either party in 20 years, with reform cred and Latino crossover appeal, but ...
... Would-be self-immolators outnumber Bush loyalists by 5 to 1
Gov. Tim Pawlenty R-Minnesota
John McCain, moderates, reformers, wonks, Minnesota-based conservative bloggers
The many who think conservative reform is a Trojan horse for "me-too Republicanism"
Medium: Popular, hockey-playing coiner of the buzzphrase "Sam's Club Republican" couldn't deliver own state
Most plausible of the reformer veeps
Tom Ridge Former Pennsylvania governor and secretary of Homeland Security
Tom Ridge, Pennsylvanians, pro-choice Republicans, pro-nuclear-freeze Republicans, fans of color-coded terror
Conservatives who have looked at his post-Vietnam War record
High: The only argument anyone makes is that he could carry Pennsylvania
If he can't deliver the Keystone State, "Sexier than Arlen Specter" won't wow the base
Jonah Goldberg, a weekly Op-Ed columnist and editor at large for National Review Online, is the author of "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning."