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Veepstakes: When It Comes to Saying 'No'

Over the last week, three Democrats often mentioned as possible running mates for Barack Obama confront that most dreaded of questions: "Will you or won't you?"

VP Watch

How each of the men handled the question about his interest (or lack thereof) in the vice presidency provides an intriguing look into the game within a game that is the veepstakes.

Let's start with John Edwards, who ran for president and vice president in 2004 and then the top job again in 2008. He was on the record long ago as saying he has no interest in a second run at the VP job.

But during an appearance on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Edwards seemed to crack that previously closed door ever so slightly. "I'd take anything [Obama] asked me to think about seriously," Edwards said.

While Edwards professed no active interest in the job -- saying you would consider "anything" if asked is not the same thing as saying you want to be picked for vice president -- his willingness to leave a bit of wiggle room suggests that his previous resistance to serving a second time as the party's vice presidential nominee has dissipated a bit.

Former Virginia governor Mark Warner, on the other hand, said "no" to being considered for the Democratic ticket. But from our understanding, that no didn't mean "never."

"Let me be clear about this: I have been working very hard these last few months to ask the people of Virginia to give me the honor of being their United States senator," Warner said. "I will not seek, and I will not accept, any other opportunity."

In Warner's case, his hand was forced, as talk of him as the Democratic vice presidential nominee had begun to overshadow his sure-thing race for the Commonwealth's open Senate seat. He had to come out and make clear he is running for the Senate and the Senate alone in order to eliminate any appearance that he was secretly pining for the Veep spot.

Warner may mean what he said now, but The Fix also tends to believe that the vice presidency is a tough thing to turn down -- especially since Warner clearly has national ambitions and has made little secret of his desire to make a run for national office down the line.

The simple truth is that if Warner is offered the spot and he retains a genuine interest in being president one day (and few politicians don't), it's easy to see him rethinking his pledge.

The final member of the veepstakes trio is Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland who, prior to proclaiming zero interest in the VP job, held the pole position on The Fix's Veepstakes Line.

"If drafted I will not run, nominated I will not accept and if elected I will not serve," Strickland said on National Public Radio last week. "So, I don't know how more crystal clear I can be."

While that sentiment took many in the political world by surprise, it was entirely consistent with a pledge he gave last year -- unearthed by the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder.

So, how is what Strickland said any different from Warner's pledge? On its face, it's not. But remember that past history matters, as does the political situation in which a statement like this one is made.

Unlike Warner, Strickland has never expressed any interest in national office. He has been remarkably consistent about that lack of interest -- a consistency that is telling here. And unlike Warner, Strickland had absolutely no reason to make an announcement now about his political future. He remains extremely popular in his home state and won't be up for reelection until 2010. Strickland's decision then seems organic, not strategic.

When it comes to the Veepstakes, words and context matter. Politicians -- like the rest of us -- can, and often do, change their minds. Put simply: No doesn't always mean no -- as the three examples above illustrate.

For the doubters out there, remember back to January 2006 when, during an appearance with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press," Barack Obama pledged: "I will not run for president or vice president."

And look how that turned out.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 17, 2008; 7:51 AM ET
Categories:  Veepstakes  
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