Running mate sought as Obama shifts gear

Democratic party officials disclosed on Thursday that Barack Obama has sanctioned a hunt for a vice-presidential candidate, a further sign that he regards the battle with Hillary Clinton as being over.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Obama had asked Jim Johnson, a businessman who conducted the search for running mates for Walter Mondale in 1984 and John Kerry in 2004, to begin vetting possible choices.

Although Clinton has been insisting over the last 24 hours that she is prepared to keep the battle for the nomination alive until the party convention in Denver in August, Obama is only 64 delegates short of crossing the finishing line and is widely expected to formally bring the contest to an end in the next few weeks.

Obama on Thursday said: ”I haven’t hired him. He’s not on retainer. I’m not paying him any money. He is a friend of mine. I know him,” Obama said. He said he would not comment further ”because I have not won this nomination”.

Time magazine, in a report in its next issue, quotes a friend of Bill Clinton saying he wants his wife to be the vice-presidential candidate and ”is pushing real hard for this to happen”. Obama has spoken with respect about Hillary Clinton over the last fortnight, but his campaign team would not be keen to have her as vice-presidential candidate, given the acrimonious nature of the campaign they have waged and the problems Obama would face if he shared the White House with the Clintons.

Among many alternatives are Jim Webb, the Democratic senator from Virginia, who won six combat medals in Vietnam and was secretary for the navy in the Reagan administration. His Vietnam experience would be a useful counter to the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, who spent five years in a Hanoi jail.

Webb is popular with the media, but his reputation for fiery candour — and his well-reviewed but sexually frank novels — could cause trouble.

Other possibilities include Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who could help deliver a state critical for securing the White House; and Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius.

She has proved adept at winning over conservative electors while pursuing liberal causes. But with an African American already on the ticket, a female running mate would have difficulty wooing more traditionally minded voters.

Another possibility is Wesley Clark, who was chief commander of Nato for four years. He would help blunt McCain’s accusations that Obama is inexperienced in foreign and military affairs.

While there are still three primaries left, Obama’s team has switched its resources to the battleground states for the election. Obama is on a three-day tour of Florida, and on Thursday visited a synagogue to try to win over Jewish voters, who make up about 5% of the state’s electorate.

McCain, too, is looking at vice-presidential candidates and is hosting a weekend break at his Arizona home with three possibilities: the Florida governor Charlie Crist, the Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and his former rival in the presidential race, Mitt Romney.

McCain is also due to release his medical records to a select group of journalists on Friday, to try to counter concerns about his general health. – guardian.co.uk Â

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