Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While Sen. John McCain will not decide on a vice president for many months, Rob Portman gets the highest marks inside the Republican presidential candidate's organization.

Portman's background is legislative (House Republican leadership), executive (George W. Bush's Cabinet), diplomatic (U.S. trade representative) and economic (Office of Management and Budget director). He comes from a swing state (Ohio), is young enough (52) to contrast McCain and conservative enough (89 percent lifetime American Conservative Union rating).

A footnote: Key conservatives in his home state do not want Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on the ticket, but he is popular with voters in that crucial state. McCain likes Crist and owes him for his endorsement just before the Florida primary. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a favorite for vice president among conservatives nationally, lost ground with McCain by not backing him in 2008 as he did in 2000.

Gore in '12?

Al Gore, despite the lowest political profile, is talked about among prominent Democrats as their leading candidate for 2012 if they fail this year.

The Democratic consensus is that there will be no second chance for Sen. Hillary Clinton. She is blamed for wounding Sen. Barack Obama so severely that he might fail in November.

Gore has kept out of the 2008 Democratic presidential contest, in contrast to his embarrassing 2004 endorsement of front-runner Howard Dean just before Dean flamed out. Since then, Gore's prestige in Democratic ranks has soared while winning the Nobel Peace Prize and Hollywood's Academy Award. He will be 64 in 2012.

Platform Writer

The platform committee chairmanship at the Republican National Convention, usually held by a prestigious figure, according to McCain campaign sources may go this year to a 43-year-old freshman congressman: Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, Calif.

The chairmanship rotates between Senate, House and governors, and 2008 is the House's turn, with Minority Leader John Boehner making the choice. McCarthy has become a Boehner protege since his election in 2006 to replace the retired Rep. Bill Thomas, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman.

He spent 15 years as Thomas' district director starting at age 22, before his 2002 election to the California Assembly, where he was elected minority leader during his first term. In Congress, he has been a conservative vote, though he declined to join the conservative Republican Study Committee or the new Reagan 21 organization. McCarthy is considered more conservative, more likable and less cerebral than longtime patron Thomas.

Fallen Pol

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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