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McCain Veep Pick: Feint or For Real?

Conservative columnist Bob Novak's piece in which he suggested John McCain might well pick his vice president this week set off a firestorm around political Washington late yesterday afternoon as reporters and operatives scampered to follow the Prince of Darkness's reporting.

Subsequent reporting -- by The Fix, Jmart and others -- suggests that while McCain is in the final stages of making up his mind on who to pick, that no decision is imminent.

And, moments ago in an interview with Fox News Channel -- first reported by The Page -- Novak said that a senior McCain aide had passed along the information to him and suggested he put it up on the Web.

"I have since been told that this was something to get a bit of publicity, to rain on Obama's campaign," Novak said, according to a transcript from ShadowTV. "That is reprehensible, if true. We will find out if what I was suggesting was true or a scam."

So, was the story -- which The Fix helped to push by reporting that McCain was slated to huddle with Gov. Bobby Jindal (La.) tomorrow -- simply a feint -- and a well executed one at that -- by the McCain campaign or the genuine window into a far more accelerated decision-making process for the Arizona senator that was previously believed.

Our strong sense is that the feint option is the more plausible. McCain's campaign knows full well that it was going to be tough to tear the media away from their coverage of Obama in the Middle East.

But, what better way to do that than offer a bit of what looked like genuine news on the vice presidential front? The pull of vice presidential news is among the most powerful in political reporting; journalists see it as the big "get" of the presidential cycle and always remember who broke the identities of the vice presidential picks in each election.

By giving cable news and the blogosphere something else to talk about, the McCain campaign effectively changed the conversation -- albeit it for only 12 hours or so. (Obama's press conference this morning re-established his trip as the top political story of the day.)

And, in conversations with several neutral Republican operatives there was widespread dismay about the possible strategy of McCain naming his vice president this week in order to take some of the air out of the Obama balloon.

Doing so would, in the minds of many party strategists, reinforce the operating dynamic of the race in which Obama acts and McCain reacts. The goal for the Arizona senator has to be setting the agenda, the sources agreed, rather than counter-punching in a fight that McCain may not be able to win.

"The vice presidential choice and the nominating speech are the only two major events under their control and they must be done correctly, not in a reactive fashion," said John Weaver, a former senior aide to McCain's campaign. "If [Novak's report] is for real and they are about to name a vice president, it's campaign malpractice."

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 22, 2008; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  Veepstakes  
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