We are in the midst of a lot of crazy talk concerning the open slot for a John McCain running mate.

What about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice? Frankly, the whole Condi idea strikes me as too “gimmicky.”

“Hey, look, they have a black candidate and we have one too.”

When conservative pundits raised the idea of the Secretary of State for top spot three years ago, I thought it was an interesting idea. I am actually a big Condi fan. However, it arrived a non-starter because of the trials and tribulations of the Bush White House (see Jay Cost for a statistical analysis of why this is a bad strategy--hint: 30-percent approval rating). Moreover, Rice has forcefully and repeatedly articulated her own apparently sincere desire not to be president.

Now, to go back to Rice in a frenzied attempt to achieve a racially balanced ticket and/or create excitement among conservatives seems utterly panic-driven and foolhardy.

An Aside: does Condoleeza Rice really pack the kind of appeal among conservatives that will somehow overcome the deep and abiding disgust for John McCain? I don't see that.

Turn the page.

I think those who have been suggesting Charlie Crist for the past few months are on the right track. Let’s get the four yards and a cloud of dust. Charlie Crist is not the big play, game-changing stroke of genius we would prefer--but he definitely helps a lot in Florida, and Florida is a must have.

Historically, it is a rare instance in which any second banana makes any difference anywhere other than their own state (and even that is not a given).

Can Crist win Florida for the ticket? Maybe. Maybe not—but, once again, he helps some in a very close and vital state.

Tim Pawlenty? He might swing Minnesota. Maybe. Maybe not. Minnesota would be nice. But Minnesota is more like three yards and a cloud of dust.

Are Crist and Pawlenty too moderate? Compared to what?

The strategy of pulling conservatives back in by establishing a rock-ribbed conservative as heir apparent would be fine--save for the dearth of rock-ribbed conservative heir apparents (see Cost again for the dilemma of the "weak GOP bench").

Governor Mark Sanford from South Carolina has been mentioned in this regard, and he seems like a nice fellow, but I am skeptical of this line of attack in general. More than likely, conservatives will be unmoved by any of this patchwork. There is nothing John McCain himself can do to appeal to conservatives (although he can take care not to continually alienate them)--and I remain unconvinced that any conservative VP can bridge this divide.

In the end, the McCain-hating conservatives will either come back around in the face of a very liberal Democratic nominee (most likely Barack Obama) or they won’t. Some conservatives are going to vote for Bob Barr and some will not vote at all. But mainly this election is going to be won in the middle. Who best appeals to Mr. and Mrs. Average American?

In a really odd development (within an abominably dismal year to run as a GOP candidate), wild card John McCain now holds a pretty enviable position with the non-aligned voters of America. John McCain has unorthodox appeal, which will be hard to counter. Independent voters will not buy the canard of McCain as a Bush third term. And, as we have said before, Obama is positioned too far Left for most voters--and this dissonance among the candidate and the plain folks of America will be the story to watch between now and November.

Time will tell. If the economy stays above deep and bitter recession—and the news from Iraq stays on a moderately positive track—John McCain maintains a slim chance to beat Barack Obama.

Of course, if the economy craters, or Iraq goes south, nothing can help McCain.