WASHINGTON Barack Obama is considering former top Pentagon leaders among his possible running mates, which would address his lack of foreign policy experience and balance the military bona fides of a GOP ticket led by a war hero.
Two senators who consulted Tuesday with the Democratic presidential candidate's vice presidential vetting team said retired military generals were among the names they discussed.
"We talked about many names," North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad told The Associated Press, including "some that are out of the box, but I think would be very well-received by the American people, including former top military leaders."
They discussed roughly 20 names with Conrad, who would not disclose any of them. Obama's campaign has been keeping the process a closely guarded secret.
GOP candidate John McCain was a naval aviator during the Vietnam War and spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese after being shot down. Obama has not served in the military.
Obama has a three-person team managing the vetting process that includes former first daughter Caroline Kennedy, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and Jim Johnson, the former CEO of mortgage lender Fannie Mae.
Holder and Johnson have been meeting with several Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill to get their input.
"I sensed from this meeting that they are still very much building the list and at the same time evaluating possibilities," Conrad said. "It's very clear they have reached no conclusions, not even tentative conclusions."
Johnson and Holder also met with North Dakota's other Democratic senator, Byron Dorgan, who confirmed that former military officials were discussed, along with a "good many names" of other potential candidates.
"They have gone about this in a very methodical and important way," Dorgan said.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said the discussion involves a lot of names; he declined to provide any. "Some of them would surprise you, some of them wouldn't," Durbin told reporters.
One name being discussed is retired Gen. James Jones, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, according to a person familiar with the process.
Many former military leaders have been involved in the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign. Some of Obama's most prominent campaign advisers have been retired Gen. Tony McPeak, who was Air Force chief of staff during Operation Desert Storm; retired Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, who flew repeated combat missions and has worked with Obama on a range of military issues since before he began his presidential campaign; and Richard Danzig, who was Navy secretary under President Clinton.
Obama might also look at some of former rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's top military advisers in a gesture of unity, retired generals who include Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; or Wesley Clark, who led the war in Kosovo. Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who served as Navy secretary under President Reagan, also has been frequently mentioned as a possible running mate.
Campaigning in St. Louis, Obama defended Johnson and Holder from Republican criticism. Johnson received loans with the help of the CEO of Countrywide Financial Corp., which is part of a federal investigation in the midst of the subprime mortgage crisis. Holder's scrutiny has come from his role in helping fugitive financier Marc Rich get a pardon from President Clinton.
Obama said he was not hiring "a vetter to vet the vetters."
"Jim Johnson has a very discreet task, as does Eric Holder, and that is simply to gather up information about potential vice presidential candidates," Obama said. "They're not people who I have assigned to a particular job in a future administration."
On Tuesday, Democrats raised questions about Arthur B. Culvahouse, the former Reagan administration official helping with McCain's vice presidential search.
Several Republicans close to the campaign say that while McCain and campaign manager Rick Davis are running the show, Culvahouse is closely involved the process. He has played a role in vice presidential searches before and served as counsel to President Reagan from 1987-1989. Culvahouse also is a partner at O'Melveny & Myers, an international law firm, and in previous years has been listed in public records as a lobbyist on behalf of Fannie Mae and Lockheed Martin.