WASHINGTON -- There's no short list. At this very early stage, only a very long list of potential running mates for Sen. Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee.
The closely held project for picking a vice president for Obama will be a separate "silo," an organization outside the Obama campaign headquarters on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
As I reported in the May 8 Sun-Times, the Obama team has been exploring for weeks the process to be used for selecting a running mate. Meanwhile, the Sun-Times has learned that Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett is already teed up to be highly involved in transition planning -- to be ready if Obama is sworn in as president next January.
On Thursday, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder disclosed that James A. Johnson will be a central figure on the Obama vetting team, reprising a role he played in 2004 for Sen. John Kerry and in 1984 for Vice President Walter Mondale, when they were the Democratic presidential nominees.
Johnson is putting together a task force, mostly lawyers, to do public records vetting at this initial stage for a very long list of potential partners, said a source familiar with the operation who did not want to be named.
Obama is looking for, in broad strokes, someone with complimentary expertise, who could be a successor, who he has good chemistry with and, in the political equation, would possibly help -- but certainly not hurt -- win electoral votes.
Johnson is the former CEO of Fannie Mae and former chairman of the Kennedy Center Board who with his wife, Maxine Isaacs -- a former Mondale spokesman -- were early supporters of Obama who became major fund-raisers for him.
While Obama is running an anti-Washington campaign, in turning to Johnson, Obama is asking for help from an insider's insider. Clearly, there is no reason to reject advice or guidance from Johnson, whose institutional knowledge is invaluable; rather it shows that Obama's rhetoric may not foreshadow how he would actually govern.
In picking a running mate, Obama "ought to be looking for someone who shares his values," someone "simpatico," said Abner Mikva, the former Bill Clinton White House counsel and congressman from Illinois and longtime Obama mentor.
The cable shows are buzzing each night over whether Obama should tap Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his running mate, even as she struggles to keep her own campaign alive.
"Not a good idea," said Mikva. "They have carved out their different positions. It would look like a political deal, contrary to what Barack has been talking about when he talks about change."
The first step for the Obama vice presidential task force will be to assemble a list of potential contenders. Sen. Dick Durbin should be on the long list, but he's aced out this time because he is from Illinois too. Here are the pluses and minuses for some of the obvious names:
HILLARY CLINTON brings in supporters who delivered victories for her in key swing states; a female vote and instant Democratic "dream ticket" unity. Yet it will be hard for Obama to have a campaign for change with her as a partner. They have no chemistry. Obama would have to figure Bill Clinton would be part of the picture.
VIRGINIA GOV. TIM KAINE may bring in a Southern state, was one of Obama's earliest backers and Obama seems to enjoy being with him.
Obama, who has no military background, is looking for Republicans and independent votes. SEN. JIM WEBB, a freshman senator from Virginia, is a former Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, a former Marine, speaks Vietnamese and comes from the South.
Several figures who backed Clinton from key swing states could fill the governing hole in Obama's resume and build a bridge to the Clinton supporters. They are Iowa Gov. TOM VILSACK, Ohio Gov. TED STRICKLAND and Indiana Sen. EVAN BAYH, a former governor.
As part of the hunt for those GOP and independent voters, Obama could look at Sen. CHUCK HAGEL (R-Neb.) and New York Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, now an independent.
This tier includes former Democratic rivals:
NEW MEXICO GOV. BILL RICHARDSON dropped his presidential bid after failing to get much traction; still, he would help Obama with his Hispanic deficit and as former U.N. ambassador and energy secretary has an impressive resume.
Former Sen. JOHN EDWARDS, Kerry's 2004 running mate. Could help Obama with his problem, in these latest contests, of winning white middle class votes. But Edwards did not put Kerry over the line.
SEN. CHRIS DODD and SEN. JOE BIDEN ran very respectable, if unsuccessful, campaigns. They bring in enormous foreign policy experience.
Former Sen. TOM DASCHLE is sort of a godfather to the Obama campaign; however, his wife, Linda is a Washington lobbyist. He would be a better fit as a Cabinet member or chief of staff.
Former Rep. TIM ROEMER of Indiana, a former member of the 9/11 Commission.
Former Sen. SAM NUNN of Georgia brings in foreign policy experience and could balance out Obama's liberal record. But he's been off the scene for a long time.
Pro-Obama governors from swing states: Kansas Gov. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS and Arizona Gov. JANET NAPOLITANO. But if Obama passes over Clinton, it would backfire to put these lesser qualified women on the ticket.