Byron York: Looks like it's down to Lieberman and Pawlenty

But a dark horse lurks.

I’ve been talking to more people about the veep thing, and the picture I get is this: McCain is sitting in front of a console with a switch with two positions: GAMBLE and PLAY IT SAFE. If he moves the switch to GAMBLE, he picks Lieberman…

Still, Romney is an unquantifiable here. I mentioned yesterday that if McCain were to pick Ridge, “it will be because he likes him personally and believes Ridge can win Pennsylvania.” Now, it’s not clear to me that McCain will make the choice based on whether a veep could carry a particular state, but if he did, I’ve been told, there is a feeling that Romney has a pretty good argument to make that choosing him would help quite a bit in Nevada and Colorado, with their significant Mormon populations.

A pro-choice Republican group is releasing a poll tomorrow showing that nearly 70 percent of party members don’t regard abortion as a litmus test for VP and only 1 in 10 say they’d be less likely to vote for McCain if he goes pro-choice with the pick. Um, given the fact that the race is within the margin of error, shouldn’t the headline there be that a potentially game-changing minority would be less likely to vote for him? Did I miss a national poll somewhere showing McCain with a 15-point lead over Obama, sufficient to justify kissing off a double-digit swath of the base? One of the things people don’t seem to understand about the Lieberman rumors is that it’s not just about abortion, which, after all, is an issue over which the president has little control, let alone the vice-president. It has to do with Maverick prioritizing his own mavericky leanings over the wishes of the base yet again, even though they’ve forgiven him virtually everything else he’s ever done to antagonize them — amnesty, CFR, the gang of 14 — in the interests of defeating Obama. If, between Jindal, Palin, Pawlenty, and Romney, he can’t find a talented VP in his own party who’s at least square on the one issue above all that matters to social cons, how can they trust him? They’re not asking for a major concession here. He should be able to make it.

Beyond that, is there some strong pro-Lieberman contingent out there among independents? I assume McCain thinks Joementum would appeal to Hillary supporters, which may be true or may not be (I haven’t seen any poll measuring the extent to which their constituencies overlap), but the issue isn’t whether Lieberman would bring in some Clintonites. It’s whether he’d bring in more in swing states than McCain would lose among the base in red states. The fact that McCain’s considering him makes me wonder if he doesn’t suspect his momentary parity with Obama is fleeting and that he needs, as York says, to do something dramatic to bust through the 45 percent ceiling he’s been stuck at. Which, in turn, makes me wonder if Pawlenty’s not the big winner from the Saddleback forum the other night: The going theory is that McCain’s home run there reassured social cons enough to let him get away with a pro-choice VP, but he may have done so well that he now thinks he can bust 45 percent without any extra help from the veep (especially with the debates coming up), which allows a safe choice instead of the gamble.

Meanwhile, The One has reportedly been wrestling with a gamble/play it safe scenario himself. Stephanopoulos thinks the pick could be announced … on Friday night?