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When It Came Down To Glenn Or Bentsen, The Texan Had The Right Stuff

July 14, 1988

BOSTON (AP) _ In the waning hours of Michael Dukakis’ search for a running mate, it came down to two - John Glenn and Lloyd Bentsen.

And both, in Dukakis’ mind, had the right stuff.

The two senators each offered Washington experience. Either would bring ideological and geographical balance to the Democratic ticket. Both have moderate to conservative voting records and both are well respected in Congress.

Glenn, the Ohio senator, the astronaut and hero, likely would deliver his state’s 23 electoral college votes to Dukakis. Bentsen, the silver-haired Texas senator, the quintessential Washington insider, might help carry his state’s 29 electoral votes.

On the negative side, neither is considered a dazzling campaigner. Both had made unsuccessful presidential bids, Bentsen’s a short-lived venture in 1976 and Glenn’s a failed 1984 effort marked by well-publicized disarray and a huge remaining debt.

As Dukakis prepared to make his choice Monday night, sources said, the focus essentially had narrowed to Glenn and Bentsen. But Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana and to a lesser degree Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee were still in contention.

Stacked up against Glenn, Bentsen emerged as the victor based on his Senate record and the strategic implications of his inclusion on the ticket, sources said, winning out over the heroic legacy of the Ohioan most had considered the favorite for the Democratic vice presidential nomination.

Dukakis aides also believe he is already a strong contender in the Midwest and that the key to the election is attracting Reagan Democrats back to the party.

As part of the detailed background checks directed by Dukakis confidant Paul Brountas, the campaign had compiled an unimpressive portrait of the 1984 Glenn presidential effort, which was in serious trouble even before Iowa’s all-important caucuses. Several people involved in that campaign live in the Boston area and were easily accessible to the Brountas research team.

With Dukakis, his wife, Brountas and two top campaign aides assembled at Dukakis’ kitchen table, the unanimous choice was Bentsen.

″If the pick is between two near equals, why not take the one that causes George Bush the most grief?″ offered one senior Dukakis adviser. Bush claims Texas as his home state, and the choice of Bentsen by Dukakis was a deliberate effort to force Bush to invest time and money in a state he may have taken for granted.

Bentsen, as Senate Finance Committee chairman, plays a leading role in the chamber’s handling of major legislation and this year alone has been a key figure in the consideration of trade and catastrophic health care bills.

″Both had the stature we were looking for, but Bentsen is more of a doer, has more accomplishments,″ another adviser said. ″That was appealing to Michael.″

Dukakis said from the outset of the search that his vice president would be an active player and trusted adviser, and Bentsen was seen in the Dukakis camp as fitting that role better than Glenn.

Dukakis himself hinted at that when explaining on Wednesday why he picked Bentsen to fill the ticket.

″I picked this man because in my judgment he had those qualities, the strength, character, the values, the experience that would be most helpful, not just in running and winning but in serving in office and putting together as fine an administration as we possibly could,″ Dukakis told a Capitol Hill news conference.

The choice of Bentsen also was partly attributed to the withdrawal of two attractive candidates from consideration: Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn and New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley.

With Nunn out of the running, speculation about a running mate from the South turned to Bentsen, Gore and Florida Sen. Bob Graham.

Graham, sources said, did not have the Washington and national political experience Dukakis sought, and Gore would proven a sensitive choice because Jackson was pushing for the No. 2 spot and had outlasted Gore in the presidential primaries.

That problem also dimmed the prospects of Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt.

Jackson has no government experience, and his flamboyant personality clashes with Dukakis’ reserved nature. He was never considered a serious vice presidential possibility, and The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that he hurt his already dim chances by refusing to fully comply with Brountas’ request for financial information.

Hamilton, like Bradley, developed a good rapport with Dukakis, and some believe Dukakis would have turned to the Indiana congressman if there was division over the Bentsen-Glenn choice.

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