Obama Veep Search Begins...SLOWLY

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Obama officials tell The Bourbon Room the process of selecting a Vice President has begun but is in its infancy. It amounts, they say, to little more now than assembling a team to begin the process once Obama secures the nomination.

Obama officials say no one is yet leading up the effort but that party veteran Jim Johnson will be among those consulted. In due course Johnson may assume a more formal role and his early involvement signals he is more likely than not to land the post, should he want it. Johnson, who led the veep search process for John Kerry in 2004 and Walter Mondale in 1984, is a natural choice for advice and counsel, Obama advisers say.

"News flash, Jim Johnson may help us look a Vice Presidential Process," said a one top Obama official. "He's been around a long time. He's been doing this since Mondale. There's nothing official and all of the reporting about this is pretty rudimentary."

Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat and former Senate Majority leader may also lend a hand in the process. Considering the historic nature of everything related to Obama's transformation from candidate to nominee, there will be no shortage of volunteers offering advice and counsel. A hallmark of the Obama campaign has been its ability to assemble a smart, effective team, focus them on the task at hand and minimize in-fighting. It would be a startling departure from form if the veep selection process played out any differently.

Right now, all that's being done is a team is being selected to review open-source research on potential candidates. "Anyone can do that, " the Obama official said.

True, but there are practical reasons for team Obama to downplay what is unquestionably one of the most important tasks of his general election campaign. Obama advisers don't want to antagonize Hillary Clinton's campaign or its legions of supporters with premature talk of hunting for a running mate amid a still-active primary process. This is part of the balancing act Clinton's continued presence in the race has imposed on Obama and his team, for the sake of party unity, is taking it in stride and trying to strike a pose of respectful patience.

But it can only play that hand for so long. The process of moving toward a running mate must be communicated, if even in the vaguest terms, to signal to supporters and the nation that serious tasks are being dealt with in their natural order -- even if it means risking a bit of ruffled feathers in Hillaryland.

Two other notes....

First, much has been made of the Kentucky exit poll result showing 45 percent of voters said John Edward's endorsement of Obama was "important" to them and that a majority of those supported Obama. This has led some to conclude that Edwards would be a good potential running mate and this exit data suggests he might have sizable pull among working class voters Obama has yet to attract. Obama officials I've talked to don't see it this way. They believe the die was cast in Kentucky before Edwards endorsed and those who said his endorsement mattered were, in many cases, already Obama supporters. Thus, they say, Edwards only reinforced their preference. It's obvious Obama's camp didn't think Edwards would have moved many votes because they didn't send him to Kentucky. The Obama results in Kentucky were bad and there was no sense sending Edwards there would have changed the result very much -- and Edwards may have been reluctant to hit the trail in what was pretty obviously a lost cause. In other words, Edwards' endorsement mattered, largely, to a self-selected group of Obama supporters and did not, in the view of the Obama campaign, move mountains or even mole hills of votes.

Second, Quinnipiac has three battleground polls out today. In Pennsylvania, Clinton leads John McCain 50 percent to 37 percent while Obama leads McCain 46 percent to 40 percent (1,667 surveyed, 2.4 percent margin of error); in Ohio, Clinton leads McCain 48 percent to 41 percent while McCain leads Obama 44 percent to 40 percent (1,224 surveyed, 2.8 percent margin of error); in Florida, Clinton leads McCain 48 percent to 41 percent, while McCain leads Obama 45 percent to 41 percent (1,419 surveyed, 2.6 percent margin of error).

In the McCain-Obama matchups, 26 percent to 36 percent of Clinton supporters in each battleground state say they will switch to McCain if Obama is the nominee. Of Obama supporters, 10 percent to 18 percent say they would back McCain if Clinton's the nominee.

What to make of these numbers? Team Clinton says is buttresses their argument she's the stronger potential nominee. Team Obama, of course, sees it differently. They no longer pay any attention to head-to-heads with Clinton, but head-to-heads with McCain. Here they see a lead in Pennsylvania and within-the-margin-of-error deficits in Florida and Ohio. They believe once Obama becomes the nominee and Democrats stop dividing their loyalties between Clinton and Obama, the Obama numbers against McCain will inevitably rise. They say they are pleased, at this stage, to be so close to McCain in states they lost to Clinton and where they've yet to define McCain and court Clinton supporters in earnest.

June will be an excellent month to test this theory. As well as accelerate the process to find Obama's running mate.