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Opinion: Chris Matthews to John Thune: you’re John McCain’s guy

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Chris Matthews has made his call -- John Thune, a freshman senator from South Dakota, will be John McCain’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.

Matthews informed the world -- as well as Thune himself -- of his prediction while the MSNBC commentator interviewed the senator a few minutes before President Bush delivered his latest comments on the war in Iraq.

Thune firmly established himself as a comer within the GOP when he knocked off then-Senate minority leader Tom Daschle in 2004. Telegenic and relatively youthful (he was born in 1961, just like Barack Obama, another member of the Senate’s ’04 class), Thune almost assuredly is on the working list that McCain recently revealed he’s put together of vice presidential possibilities.

But Matthews didn’t just mention him as a prospect. Ignoring the Condoleezza Rice boomlet that’s been in vogue of late, as well as the trench work Mitt Romney has taken on for McCain, the host of ‘Hardball’ (and a one-time aide to legendary House Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill) flatly said -- twice -- that Thune would be the pick.

The senator handled Matthews’ chutzpah like a pro, modesty saying ...

he did not expect to get the nod (sorry, the early post omitted the key ‘not’) and adding that he was sure whomever McCain does select will be top-notch.

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As much as anything, the exchange underscored for us a key calculation the McCain camp must figure out: the timing for unveiling his choice. Anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before their national conventions has become the window for the presumptive presidential nominees of both parties.

Waiting until just before this year’s Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., doesn’t seem like McCain’s best option. The gathering convenes late in the campaign -- the first week of September. And it starts just after the Democratic convention in Denver wraps up, so that last part of August probably is out as well.

The larger question is how long McCain wants to tolerate the guessing game -- and the inevitable ebb and flow in the political stock of the likes of Thune, Rice and Romney. It will be fun for awhile. But at some point, perhaps sooner than in the past, it will become tiresome and -- of more concern to McCain -- diverting of his message.

-- Don Frederick


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