Picking a Running Mate


Gov. Bill Clinton announced Tuesday that he has formed a vice presidential search committee. This came in a week when the Arkansan was getting some good news and some bad news. Mostly bad news. The good news was that he easily won the West Virginia primary. He beat Jerry Brown 74 percent to 12 percent. Now for the bad news:

* He won the Nebraska primary with less than half the votes. He got 48 percent to Mr. Brown's 22 percent, but "uncommitted" got 17 percent and Paul Tsongas and others got 12 percent.

* The California Poll showed him with only 25 percent voter support in that state, in third place behind Ross Perot (37 percent) and George Bush (31 percent). A Massachusetts poll showed the governor in third place there, with only 20 percent to President Bush's 31 percent and Ross Perot's 27 percent.

* A national poll for the Washington Post showed Governor Clinton trailing President Bush 29 percent to 33 percent, only slightly ahead of Ross Perot (28 percent). A national poll for CNN showed him in third place -- Bush 35, Perot 30, Clinton 29.

If poll numbers like these continue, and if voters are as lukewarm to him in California, New Jersey and other remaining primary states, the search committee may have trouble attracting the sort of high-powered running mate Governor Clinton is going to need. But the head of the committee, Warren Christopher, is accustomed to dealing with tough assignments. He ran the investigation into the Los Angeles Police Department after the Rodney King beating tape was first made public. He was also Jimmy Carter's negotiator with Iran during the hostage crisis.

Governor Clinton said he told the committee of its search, "I want it to be done in as non-political way as possible." But, of course, this is an important political decision. For the first time, the public will see a man who wants to be president doing something presidential rather than just saying what he wants to do. It will forecast the type of appointments he would make in his administration. It will affect some voters' ultimate decision. It always does. For example, a Gallup study of voters' reasons for voting booth decision-making in 1988 indicated that George Bush would have received 3 percent more votes had he chosen a more credible running mate than Dan Quayle.

In a close race, especially a three-way contest, 3 percent could be the difference between winning and losing many states. So Governor Clinton needs to look for the strongest possible running mate. So does Ross Perot, for that matter. For that matter, so does President Bush.

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