Veepwatch: Cantor gets vetted

John McCain’s running mate vetting committee has begun working on readying Rep. Eric Cantor, according to multiple reports out of Washington last night.  The Virginia Congressman could energize conservatives and reinforce McCain’s reform message, as well as provide a backstop for a key Republican state that has drifted Democratic of late:

John McCain’s campaign has asked Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor for personal documents as the Republican presidential candidate steps up his search for a running mate, The Associated Press has learned.

Cantor, 45, the chief deputy minority whip in the House, has been mentioned among several Republicans as a possible running mate for McCain. A Republican familiar with the conversations between Cantor and the McCain campaign said Cantor has been asked to turn over documents, but did not know specifically what records were sought. …

Cantor has been a visible McCain surrogate for weeks, appearing frequently on cable news outlets chiefly to promote McCain’s positions on domestic and economic issues. He has been a forceful critic of Democrat Barack Obama’s resistance to lifting the federal ban on oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Cantor could boost McCain on a number of fronts. Cantor has rock-solid conservative credentials and is a favorite of the Republican base. He would also provide a little history as the nation’s second Jewish candidate on a major-party ticket, after Joe Lieberman in 2000, and the first Republican. McCain could hope to make major gains in the Jewish vote, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Barack Obama and his long association with Jeremiah Wright and Trinity United, with their pro-Palestinian rhetoric. Cantor is also young, just 45 years old, and an energetic campaigner.

Cantor also has some drawbacks. McCain would want him to help hold Virginia, but Cantor passed on a shot at John Warner’s Senate seat this year. Some believed that Cantor could not win a statewide election, as Virginia had become too moderate overall for Cantor to compete against Mark Warner. Cantor has never held executive office either, which apparently matters less this cycle than it usually does for presidential elections. He’s been in Congress longer than Obama by four years, but that’s usually not considered enough seasoning for a running mate, again at least until this cycle.

One other drawback exists. Cantor would have to give up his re-election bid for his Congressional seat, and the GOP may not have a candidate ready to replace him. If McCain loses, the House GOP loses an important voice in national politics for at least two years and an important seat in the House, too.

Of course, at this point, all of these little leaks could be nothing more than a smoke screen. McCain (and Obama, for that matter) may want people to believe that he’s searching across a wide spectrum for the best candidate. Cantor could be a game-changer, though. He would be a very good selection to strengthen McCain’s position coming into the convention.