By Keating Holland
CNN Political Unit
(CNN) -- It's time for a quadrennial guessing game: Who will John Kerry pick as his running mate? It's a game all political junkies love to play, and here at CNN, we're no exception.
In 1996, we offered you the chance to play a game called Vpick, and after weeks of playing along, you correctly predicted that Bob Dole would choose Jack Kemp. Four years ago, Veepstakes players picked John Kerry as Al Gore's running mate. Gore, of course, picked Joe Lieberman. But, considering the results of this year's primaries, perhaps he should have listened to you.
Here is your chance to play political advisor. Like Jim Johnson, the head of Kerry's vice presidential search process, you will start with a huge list of possibilities. Below is a preview of the matchups for Round 1. When you're ready to go start picking, VOTE NOW!
This is an obvious bracket for a Northeastern liberal. There are at least a dozen Democrats who might help Kerry throughout the region simply because they have "the Souf in their mouf" -- even if they might not carry their home state.
John Edwards (1) vs. Jim Clyburn (8)
Retiring Sen. John Edwards is hoping that his sunny disposition, youthful charm and name recognition will be attractive to the only voter who counts in this race -- Kerry. Edwards' string of second-place finishes made him a natural alternative to Kerry during the primary season, and his win in South Carolina made him a regional favorite. Edwards was on Al Gore's short list in 2000 and most observers assume that Kerry will give him the same once-over this year. Facing Edwards in the first round is another South Carolina native, six-term Representative James Clyburn. Clyburn's status as a prominent African American not named "Sharpton" or "Moseley Braun" may win him some consideration for the second spot on the ticket, but his real ace-in-the-hole could be his endorsement of Kerry just before the South Carolina primary.
Bill Nelson (2) vs. Bob Graham (7)
Bob Graham should rank higher in the Southern bracket, but a first-round match-up between the two Florida senators is irresistible -- and unavoidable. That's what regional brackets are all about -- after all, if Kerry decides to pick someone from the Sunshine State, he will have to choose between Graham and Bill Nelson. If Kerry picks Graham, he gets a two-term governor and three-term senator with a moderate-to-conservative record on issues like the death penalty. But he also gets someone whose habit of recording every single detail about every single moment of every single day in pocket-sized notebooks earned him a reputation in 2000 as a bit of a space cadet. Speaking of space cadets, Nelson's trip on the space shuttle in 1986 gives him a unique credential as a former astronaut, although critics maintain that "human cargo" is a better description of his time in space. Nelson also has a moderate track record and slightly-more-youthful good looks than Graham, whose health problems helped to derail his lackluster presidential bid last year. Which Florida senator would be more attractive to Kerry? You make the call.
Max Cleland (3) vs. Phil Bredesen (6)
If Max Cleland were still in the Senate, the veep race might be over and done with already. A Southern war hero with experience in both the legislative and executive branches, Cleland might convince voters that the battle-tested Democratic ticket was serious about the war on terrorism while assuring them that the number-two was ready on day one to take over if the worst happened to Kerry. On a strategic level, Cleland would be a populist pit bull who can handle the partisan infighting that seems to make Kerry uncomfortable. But none of that helped him in his 2002 race against Saxby Chambliss, and that loss suggests Cleland would not guarantee Georgia's electoral votes or prevent the GOP from questioning the ticket's patriotism. Matched against Cleland in the first round is rookie Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. An Ivy League graduate from Massachusetts (as if the Democrats need another one of those on the ticket), Bredesen moved to the Volunteer State in the 1970s, made millions in the HMO business, then served two terms as the mayor of Nashville before moving up to the governor's office. His Nashville base may help Kerry capture Tennessee's 11 electoral votes, and having another rich guy on the ticket might not hurt either.
John Breaux (4) vs. Mark Warner (5)
Louisiana is one of those Southern states the Democrats haven't completely written off. Both senators are Democrats and the newly-elected governor is one, too; Bill Clinton carried the state twice and Al Gore got a respectable 45 percent in 2000. But most observers think Kerry's only hope is if he has a Southern running mate -- better still, a Louisianan. Enter John Breaux, a fixture on Capitol Hill for two decades. Breaux has a bipartisan reputation that has ruffled some feathers on the Democratic side -- often a plus in a running mate. But his strong anti-abortion stand may make for too much controversy at a Democratic convention. It's also tough to know how his penchant for deal making and his long-ago connection to convicted felon and former Gov. Edwin Edwards would play. Yet, it's at least somewhat likely that Breaux could deliver Louisiana's nine electoral votes. Less certain is whether Virginia Gov. Mark Warner could do the same in the Old Dominion. Warner ran a campaign in 2001 that self-consciously aimed to show Democrats how to win in red states. It paid off when he won the southeastern part of the state as well as many rural counties that had been GOP strongholds. Some see Warner -- or at least his campaign tactics -- as the face of the New Democratic South that might put states like Virginia in play.
SHOWDOWN STATES BRACKET
If Kerry decides to write off the South, he may opt for a different regional strategy -- finding a running mate who can guarantee him a state that he might not win on his own. Conventional wisdom says a running mate usually doesn't win a state on his own. But if Kerry's veep pick gives him just a point or two in a toss-up state, it might be enough to push a close one into the Democratic column.
Bill Richardson (1) vs. Gary Locke (8)
The top seed in this bracket goes to the man who may have everything Kerry is looking for -- a hot demographic, foreign policy experience, a track record in both Congress and the Cabinet, and the potential to deliver a state that was decided by just 365 votes in 2000. On the other hand, Richardson's foreign policy experience was at the United Nations, the congressional tour of duty left numerous votes that the opposition's research boys can sift through and the Cabinet post got him in hot water when he fired Wen Ho Lee from a nuclear research facility only to see the case against Lee fall apart. And there is a Monica Lewinsky connection: as U.N. ambassador, Richardson offered her a job while the Clinton team was looking for a way to get the president's ex-girlfriend out of D.C. (She turned down Richardson's offer a few weeks before the scandal broke.) Still, the Democrats covet the Hispanic/Latino vote and some believe that the key is to put Richardson on the ticket. Others simply feel Richardson is worth enough votes to keep New Mexico in the Democratic column. Paired against Richardson in the first round is another governor who would be a demographic first -- Washington's Gary Locke, the first Chinese-American governor in U.S. history. Locke has won two statewide elections with 58 percent of the vote each time. He has seen his popularity slip and decided not to run for re-election this year, but could help the Dems lock up a state most observers currently put in the "showdown" category.
Tom Vilsack (2) vs. Ed Rendell (7)
Here's a match-up between two governors from toss-up states that Gore carried by narrow margins in 2000. Tom Vilsack, the first Democratic governor from Iowa in three decades, is considered a key Kerry ally. Although the governor did not officially endorse Kerry before the caucuses, his wife did. (For the record, the governor also endorsed Kerry shortly after the caucuses.) Vilsack could lock in Iowa's seven electoral votes. Then again, there are bigger states where Kerry may need more help. One of them is Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes), which recent polls show Kerry losing by six points. Enter Fast Eddie Rendell (who picked up that nickname long before his official limo was clocked going more than 100 mph). Rendell is only in his first term as governor, but he has been winning elections in the Philadelphia area since the 1970s, and he served as DNC chairman in 2000. Supporters say Rendell would be a top-notch fundraiser and the kind of gruff attack dog some think Kerry needs as his number two. Others think he may be a little too outspoken and too, well, Philadelphia to play well before a national audience.
Evan Bayh (3) vs. Jay Rockefeller (6)
Technically, Indiana is not a toss-up state -- the last Democratic presidential candidate to win there was Lyndon Johnson in 1964 -- but if Sen. Evan Bayh were on the ticket, the Hoosier State would definitely be in play. A two-term governor before taking his father's old Senate seat, Bayh has the executive experience that Kerry lacks and would add a dash of youthful vigor to the ticket. Pure strategy, however, is Bayh's biggest selling point. Few other potential running mates have repeatedly won statewide office in a solidly Republican state, giving Bayh perhaps the best chance of turning a red state blue. Matched against Bayh in the first round is another senator, West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller. The case for Rockefeller is a simple one: if Gore had won West Virginia four years ago, he would not have needed Florida's electoral votes to win the White House. So if Gore had picked Rockefeller as his running mate, it's very likely they would be running for re-election now. Do the Democrats need another boring rich guy with an Ivy League degree? Maybe not, but if Kerry is determined not to make the same mistakes that Gore made in 2000, a long shot like Rockefeller might get the nod.
Russ Feingold (4) vs. James Doyle (5)
An all-Wisconsin match-up in the first round is a nod to the close 2000 vote in the Badger State. Gore won, but by less than two-tenths of a percentage point, making Wisconsin one of the lightest-blue states in the country. If Kerry thinks he needs help hanging onto that razor-thin margin this year, he may go for Sen. Russ Feingold, whose crusades against soft money, lobbyists and congressional pay raises might delight Deaniacs and convince Nader supporters to vote Democratic in the fall. On the other hand, Kerry could turn to Gov. James Doyle. Doyle has been on the job less than two years and won with only 45 percent in a three-way race -- two signs that he may not have the same ability to deliver his state as Feingold. But he may ruffle fewer feathers and seem like a fresher face to some voters in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Feingold is Jewish; Doyle is Catholic. Either choice might play well -- or poorly -- in the fall.
There is a simple rationale for this bracket: Kerry may want to -- indeed, may need to -- rise above petty political considerations and name a running mate who would be ready to take over if the worst happened to him. Dick Cheney came out of this bracket for the GOP four years ago; the war on terrorism makes this an even more attractive option for Kerry in 2004.
Dick Gephardt (1) vs. Joe Biden (8)
Dick Gephardt is this year's Jack Kemp -- a respected, well-known party insider with a distinguished track record in Congress and a following among the party faithful. As a longtime party leader and a presidential candidate, Gephardt -- like Kemp -- has been thoroughly vetted, and even though his bid for the White House went nowhere, it gave Gephardt -- like Kemp -- national name recognition and instant credibility. Coming from Missouri -- one of the bigger "showdown" states -- doesn't hurt Gephardt's chances, although some question whether Gephardt -- like Kemp -- can deliver a state when he has only represented a small corner of it in the House. Gephardt -- like Kemp -- also has little foreign policy experience. For that, Kerry could turn to his Senate colleague Joe Biden, ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. Biden, like Kerry, is a northeastern Catholic liberal, but an unbalanced ticket is not unheard of (think Clinton and Gore in 1992), and choosing a running mate from a state with just three electoral votes certainly sends the message that Kerry is not playing politics with his pick.
Wesley Clark (2) vs. Bill Clinton (7)
Wesley Clark may have the best resume in the field right now. Let's face it -- the Democrats don't have a lot of four-star generals to choose from. Clark's recent conversion to the Democratic Party may have hurt him in the primaries, but would probably play well in a general election. Some wondered whether Clark is ready for prime time, and his performance in the primary season didn't dispel those doubts. Clark probably wouldn't help the Democrats win a single state, but it's unclear how much that really matters to Kerry and his team. We're pairing Clark in the first round with the man who was Clark's biggest booster but arguably also his biggest burden -- Bill Clinton. Is Clinton constitutionally qualified to be vice president? Some legal experts have claimed with a straight face that he is (the argument basically boils down to the belief that the Constitution says whatever Congress thinks it says). The real question is whether Kerry would want to share the stage with someone who couldn't help but hog the spotlight wherever he went.
Bob Kerrey (3) vs. Sam Nunn (6)
It's unlikely that either former senator would help the ticket in his home state -- Sam Nunn hasn't run for office in Georgia since Bush's father was president, and Bob Kerrey doesn't even live in Nebraska any longer. But both would bring years of foreign policy experience to the table. Kerrey is a decorated war hero -- a compelling draw in a match-up against a GOP ticket with zero combat experience -- and has been in the public eye for a generation. Kerrey's line of questioning (some would call it grandstanding) at the 9/11 commission hearings has won him a fresh burst of attention, reminding many how thoughtful (and testy) he can be. Would the Democrats really saddle themselves with a ticket that sounds like a stutter? If not, Kerry-with-one-E might turn to Nunn, who has been out of the public eye but retains a reputation as a no-nonsense expert on dozens of weighty issues, like nuclear proliferation. Nunn is a bit of a cold fish, but he comes with less baggage than Kerrey.
John McCain (4) vs. Tom Brokaw (5)
This match-up may sound like it is straight out of Fantasy Island, but both these names have been floated and there should be one spot in this bracket where star-struck Democrats can have some fun. (And remember, the question is who John Kerry will make an offer to, not who will accept that offer.) A few offhand comments from John McCain have kept his name in play, and on the surface the arguments are compelling. He brings an unimpeachable record in Vietnam and a fascinating, if troublesome, promise of bipartisanship. By all accounts, McCain and Kerry are friends (which is more than you can say about McCain and Bush). But would rank-and-file Democrats really take to McCain? Would McCain really bolt his party? And would Kerry really want to run with someone who disagrees with him on so many issues while outshining him at every turn? If Kerry's looking for star power, there is another name that has been floated - soon-to-retire NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw. After all, he will have nothing to do after December 1 and he is welcomed nightly into millions of American households. Of course, vice president would be a demotion for a network news anchor, but naming Brokaw to the ticket might get the greatest generation to stand up and salute one more time.
Since we're talking Democrats here, a separate bracket for women is almost inevitable. It's been 20 years since the Democrats had a female running mate, and back then the highest offices Democratic women held were in city halls and the House of Representatives. Now there is a lengthy roster of senators and governors to choose from, some of whom would be top seeds in the other brackets.
Hillary Clinton (1) vs. Ann Richards (8)
It's hard to think of a better first round matchup than a contest between the two women who would be most likely to drive George W. Bush crazy. Hillary Clinton may have the most star power of any Democratic officeholder today -- including John Kerry. Her history-making move from the East Wing to the U.S. Senate gives her an unmatched resume. Would she want the job? Maybe not, but that might not stop John Kerry from offering it to her. On the other hand, if Kerry wanted someone with less baggage, he could follow the same strategy Michael Dukakis used in 1988 (when choosing a keynote speaker for the Democratic convention) and pick an old foe of Bush's who would get under his skin -- former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. Bush, of course, got the last laugh by beating Richards for his first political victory in 1994, but Richards on the ticket would certainly liven up the campaign.
Janet Napolitano (2) vs. Dianne Feinstein (7)
Even George Will thinks that Arizona is in play, and that means that Gov. Janet Napolitano is getting a second look. A self-proclaimed "conservative Democrat," Napolitano could balance the ticket ideologically and geographically while giving the Democrats an even-money shot at the Grand Canyon state's 10 electoral votes. But Napolitano has only been in office since 2003. If Kerry is looking for a woman with more experience, he might want to cross the border and take a look at California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. A former mayor of San Francisco and senator for more than a decade, Feinstein has been on Democratic short lists since 1984. Kerry probably doesn't need help carrying California -- current polls show him with a double-digit lead -- but Feinstein has got the name recognition and experience that may be a prerequisite for a running mate in a post-9/11 environment.
Mary Landrieu (3) vs. Blanche Lincoln (6)
This first-round contest matches two Southern senators from states that the Democrats think might be winnable, particularly with a native on the ticket. Call it the "favorite daughter" strategy. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu just might pull enough votes to put her home state in the Democratic column; Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln could turn her red state blue if she were Kerry's choice. Landrieu won her first term in the Senate in a cliffhanger that was decided by less than 6,000 votes, and spawned high-octane charges of vote fraud. By contrast, her 52 percent margin of victory in 2002 seems like a landslide, although it raises questions of whether she could deliver Louisiana for Kerry this year. Lincoln won her seat in the Senate six years ago with 55 percent of the vote, becoming the youngest woman to be elected to that body. Lincoln comes with a more down-to-earth image and less baggage than Landrieu. In addition, some observers think that Arkansas is more likely than Louisiana to go Democratic this year. But Kerry may not want to complicate the party's chances of holding onto this Senate seat by choosing Lincoln, who is up for re-election.
Debbie Stabenow (4) vs. Kathleen Sebelius (5)
The match-up also has strategic overtones. If Kerry covets Michigan's 17 electoral votes, he may want to add freshman Sen. Debbie Stabenow to the ticket. Stabenow managed to survive charges that she was too liberal in her 49-48 percent win over incumbent Sen. Spencer Abraham, the most expensive race in Michigan history. With service in the state legislature and the U.S. House stretching back to the 1970s, Stabenow is well known throughout her state. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is less well known, but gives Kerry an outside chance of winning a state that would otherwise be well out of his reach. Kansas has not gone Democratic in a presidential election since 1964. Some consider Sebelius' victory in 2002 a bit of a fluke -- the Kansas GOP was bitterly divided after a bruising nomination fight -- but Sebelius was well-liked and showed statewide appeal throughout the election season. If Kerry is looking for a woman who might help him steal a few electoral votes out from under the GOP's nose, Sebelius could make the cut.