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Mikulski for VP? Gore should have considered her, Bill Clinton said

In a forthcoming book about the 42nd president, Baltimore author and longtime Bill Clinton intimate Taylor Branch writes that Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski was a longshot Clinton pick to be Al Gore's running mate in 2000.

"It was not Gore's style to take big risks, said the president, which ruled out Clinton's favorite wild-card candidate, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland," writes Branch in "The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President," due out next week.

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Of course, Gore ultimately made what was seen at the time as a risky or, at least, bold choice: tapping Joe Lieberman to be the first Jewish candidate on a national ticket.

"I've always loved Barbara Mikulski," Clinton is quoted as saying, in praising her political skills. "You want to be in a foxhole with her."

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But after writing that Clinton thought Gore should consider Mikulski as his running mate, Branch concludes that "Clinton was not sure she would be the right choice."

Branch was a frequent guest and adviser to Clinton during his White House years, and the book, based on privately recorded interviews, is full of gossipy tidbits.

If the snippets about Mikulski are any guide, Branch's oral history will likely cast Clinton in a far more sympathetic light than other studies of his presidency.

Branch writes that, contrary to news reports at the time, Clinton did not ask Gore to consider Florida Sen. Bob Graham as a running mate. But he did mention Bill Bradley, who lost the nomination to Gore that year, "as a worthy long shot." There is no indication, however, that Clinton actually suggested Mikulski to Gore.Clinton conceded that Mikulski, as a VP choice, "might produce shockwaves of disbelief at first."

But, according to Branch's book, Clinton thought that the Maryland senator "could rise to folk-hero status above the prepackaged image of a potential president. She was feisty, with an amazing life story in community service. She had done more with her talents than many other women, and the president thought she was wiser than the female running mate on Gore's list, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California."

Clinton goes on to praise Mikulski's gifts as a public speaker. "He said Mikulski dramatized political choices and their consequences for everyday life, inviting citizens to take charge by thoughtful responsibility in the public square. As such, Clinton thought she was an ideal running mate to help Gore cut through the artificial gamesmanship of Bush's" campaign.

With a touch of literary license, Branch writes that "(n)o one supported or even mentioned her for vice president." That isn't absolutely accurate, though it's true that she was more likely to be mentioned on lists of Democratic women who would not get picked.

Michael Dukakis's former campaign manager, Susan Estrich, wrote in 2000 that Mikulski was "too liberal and outspoken" to be chosen. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake thought another female politician from Maryland--Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend--should get the nod. (As a reminder of how infectious vice-presidential fever can be, consider that there were press reports that Townsend's boss, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, had hopes that he'd be chosen.)

At another point, Branch refers to "distinctive advice" that Mikulski gave Clinton about choosing Madeleine Albright as the first female Secretary of State. The senator "believed Albright would break barriers in communications as well as gender. Her manner and words resonated with Mikuslki's constituents on the docks of Baltimore. She could make ordinary people feel a stake in world affairs. This potential was attractive to Clinton, who often chafted that his foreign policy leaders were too unpracticed and inarticulate for outreach in plain language..."

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