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Risky Business

The waiters were still clearing the breakfast dishes yesterday when John McCain's most prominent adviser raised the subject of erection enhancement.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief who is now the Republican National Committee's "Victory Chairman," was discussing consumer-driven health insurance at a breakfast with reporters when she proposed "a real, live example which I've been hearing a lot about from women: There are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won't cover birth-control medication. Those women would like a choice." For effect, the woman frequently mentioned as a possible McCain running mate repeated: "Those women would like a choice."

Silence filled the meeting room at the St. Regis Hotel. "I don't know where I go after that," said the moderator, Dave Cook of the Christian Science Monitor.

Fiorina's brazen breakfast talk demonstrated why she'd be such a risky running mate for McCain -- and yet also, potentially, the most rewarding of his options. She's the most prominent and visible of the women believed to be under consideration for the vice presidency, and her attributes are many: a woman who could appeal to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters; a corporate hotshot to balance the "economy-is-not-my-strong-suit" McCain; and an outsider untainted by President Bush, Washington and politics.

At the same time, she's unvetted and untested, as her breakfast conversation demonstrated anew (religious conservatives frown on Viagra-and-contraceptives talk) that she's new to the game. Her controversial tenure at HP, which fired her in 2005, could also be mined by foes. "Too risky," political handicapper Stu Rothenberg judged in Roll Call last week.

Read the whole Sketch

-- Dana Milbank

By Dana Milbank  | July 8, 2008; 12:00 AM ET
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