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Mondale on Kerry: I know what he's going through

Walter Fritz Mondale knows precisely what's weighing heavily on Sen. John Kerry's mind these days.

He'll tell you the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is pondering the selection of his running mate, a decision that Mondale says will be one of Kerry's most important in the 2004 campaign.

Mondale, 76, who served as vice president alongside President Jimmy Carter from 1977-81, knows of what he speaks: He was in the same position 20 years ago as the 1984 Democratic Party presidential nominee.

He's doing it the way I would recommend ' he is working through Jim Johnson and others in a very discreet way, looking at all the possibilities in an effort to come up with the person who best measures up to the presidency, Mondale said, referring to his former top aide. And that's what you're doing: picking someone who might be president.

Mondale, who has talked to Kerry as well as Johnson about the campaign, declined to talk about any running mates Kerry may be considering. Kerry picked Johnson to head his vice presidential selection group.

— In addition to finding someone who is presidential material, that person must be able to work with the nominee, he said.

If you get someone you can't work with, it's a form of hell, he said.

Mondale noted he got along very well with both Carter and his 1984 nominee, Geraldine Ferraro. Mondale is the only major party presidential candidate to select a woman as a running mate.

Mondale and Ferraro lost to incumbent Ronald Reagan and his running mate, George H.W. Bush, the current president's father.

Walter Mondale, who had served as the Minnesota attorney general and 12 years as one of that state's U.S. senators, later became U.S. ambassador to Japan. He is now a senior counsel with a law firm in his native state of Minnesota.

He talked about politics during an interview in the offices after arriving by plane Saturday afternoon.

keeping his selection process out of the glare of the media spotlight, Kerry is leaving his options open, he explained.

But there will come an end to this discreet period where he will want to vent those names at some point so the public gets a chance to think about it and respond, he said.

There are plenty of good candidates out there, he said.

I think John Edwards would be just fine, he said of the North Carolina senator who ran in this year's primary. I liked the fact he was positive, thoughtful, engaging.

Yet he suggests that Kerry could also consider someone on the other side of the political aisle.

He may want to look at people who could help form a national coalition to end the polarization of our nation, he said. We need to end the political hostility that is really dangerous for our country.

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska could be a coalition builder for Kerry, he said.

Chuck is a person of depth who speaks his mind in ways that are not political, he said, stressing he wasn't endorsing either one, only tossing names out to illustrate Kerry's options.

Mondale is familiar with the anxiety that will be endured by those who are placed on Kerry's short list of potential running mates. He was one of a half-dozen candidates waiting to see who would be selected by Carter in 1976.

Mondale's office established a separate telephone line in case the presidential nominee called. The main line had become tied up by people calling to ask if Carter had called.

I didn't want it to be busy when Jimmy called, Mondale quipped.

Before being selected as his running mate, Mondale had told Carter that he wanted it to be a real job.

After all, he knew that John Nance Garner, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first vice president, described the job as not worth a pitcher of warm spit. Former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller said it was like being standby equipment.

After Carter was elected president, he asked Mondale to prepare a memo that increased the role of the vice president in the executive branch. Mondale became the first vice president to have an office in the West Wing of the White House.

Now the former vice president is concerned about the future of the nation.

There is this national tendency to want to hear simple, almost slogan kinds of expositions, he said. Some people believe that if you make it very simple, get rid of all nuance and all complexities to a point where it's almost a grunt, then you must be a real man.

Americans deserve more than mere grunts, he said.

I think this is the greatest nation that has ever been, he said. But we are not guaranteed first place by God. Each of us as citizens must try to keep making this the best place in the world.

But that requires people reaching out to each other across party lines, he said.

There has to be a way for people to walk across that bridge, not as a hardcore Democrat or hardcore Republican, as sensible, tolerant, intelligent citizens.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale is in the Rogue Valley this weekend and will speak at a public event today. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli