IRVINE — Time for the veepstakes, the only handicapping left between now and the summer conventions. It's harmless, and usually irrelevant to the outcome--though perhaps not this year.
There are essentially two traditional rules: pick a person who hurts the presidential nominee the least, and who can "deliver" a state or help in a region where the top half of the ticket is weak. This year could be different--the selection of the running-mate could tip the hand of the entire campaign strategy--Northern, Southwestern, whatever. And in a close race--as this year shapes up to be--the choice could make a real difference. Vice President George Bush has an advantage because of convention order: He gets four weeks to poll and plan after Gov. Michael S. Dukakis shows his hole card, his veep choice.
The Republican Party is blessed with quite a few well-qualified governors, congressional leaders and appointed officeholders. I hate making lists--you always leave someone out--but here are the possibilities most-mentioned--plus a few others.
Let's start alphabetically with some governors--a level of public office that Bush's resume does not include.
--Former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. A political moderate and good administrator. His border-state residence could help hold the upper South--Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia--against a Dukakis-John Glenn ticket.
--Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina. A cultural and social conservative, a deep Southerner. Good choice to counter a Dukakis-Sam Nunn Democratic ticket or just shore up the South.
--Gov. George Deukmejian. With California's 47 electoral votes, the biggest prize of all. The positives: Deukmejian, a conservative, has carried California twice, remains popular, and would be helpful in the state and elsewhere. The negative: He would hand his job over to a Democrat--Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy, now trailing in a race against Republican Sen. Pete Wilson. The GOP would then lose control of the state two years before redistricting of both legislative houses and about 50 congressional seats. But holding the White House may be more important than the Statehouse--at least to non-California GOP--and Deukmejian recently said one never says never.
--Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey. An efficient manager and big electoral leader in a state that often goes Democratic at the state and local level. A drawback here--the Eastern private education, and the accent he and Bush share. Would have made a great candidate on a Bob Dole ticket.
--Gov. James R. Thompson of Illinois. Well known and available--his lieutenant governor is Republican. Has been elected governor of a large "swing state" four times and knows how to deal with fellow politicians. Would be helpful if a strategy develops to take away one big state that Dukakis needs.
Polls, nationally and state-by- state, show a "gender gap"--women going much more Democratic than men--again this year. Some suggest a woman vice presidential candidate on the GOP ticket will be a good idea. Here again, Republicans have good prospects.
--Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum of Kansas. A 10-year Senate veteran and Alf Landon's daughter to boot. She would help with farmers, small businessmen (she was a local broadcasting executive), the Midwest and elsewhere.
Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick would help with conservatives--the fervor factor, not their votes.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor--who has said she isn't interested--is qualified, but perhaps should be taken at her word. It seems easier to elect Republican vice presidents than to get a Republican on the court.
One also has to include Elizabeth H. Dole, former secretary of transportation. A North Carolina native, she'd help there and elsewhere--including Kansas where she has marital ties. Any of these women would help by themselves, or when compared to the last woman nominated for veep.
We must also include congressmen.
Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, Senate GOP leader and runner-up in this year's short (for the Republicans) nomination process, would help greatly in the West. He got nearly 13% in the June 7 California primary--two and one-half months after he dropped out of the race. Whether he would take it, or Bush would offer it are legitimate questions. However, Bush offering the second spot to the runner-up says a lot--particularly since Dukakis will never offer his second slot to the runner-up, Jesse Jackson.
Other Hill mentionables include Rep. Jack Kemp of New York. Well known and liked by most conservatives, particularly the social and international wings. He would add some pizazz and a bit of glamour. Probably could not help with New York though, at this stage.