ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Nomination well in hand, Democrat John Kerry took the initial steps Wednesday toward selecting a No. 2 for his ticket, with options that include governors from the Midwest and Southwest, members of President Clinton’s economic team and a larger-than-life former first lady.

Kerry chose Jim Johnson, a prominent Washington Democrat, to begin his selection process and vet potential nominees. Johnson, vice president of a merchant banking firm, once worked for former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Kerry remained mum about potential political partners, describing it as a private and personal process. “I wouldn’t just begin to throw names around,” he told a Florida CBS affiliate.

Among the criteria he mentioned was a running mate capable of assuming the presidency and an individual he gets along with personally. He’ll also be looking for someone who can bring certain strengths that negate his weaknesses.

With 19 years in the Senate, Kerry may look outside Washington to governors such as Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Mark Warner of Virginia or Janet Napolitano of Arizona. A Rust Belt governor who can relate to the common man, such as Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell, could help offset Kerry’s reputation for aloofness. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson could create excitement as the first Hispanic on a major party ticket.

Kerry may consider someone with economic experience to send a message of fiscal responsibility to Wall Street. Possibilities include Fannie Mae chairman and CEO Franklin Raines, who was President Clinton’s budget director, or Robert Rubin, who was Clinton’s Treasury secretary.

The Kerry campaign was vague about the timetable for a decision; vetting candidates often takes weeks. The benefit of a quick decision is a partner to help in spreading the message in battleground states and raising money. The disadvantage is eliminating early on the one question mark that might keep the public captivated.

“No decisions have even been remotely made. It was important to him to start the process right away,” said Kerry spokesman David Wade.

Kerry may look to a former rival who has built a fund-raising network and has experience campaigning. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark all endorsed Kerry when they exited the race and have pledged to support his campaign. Before Clark entered the race, Kerry advisers said a ticket with the two decorated veterans could be a powerful force with a nation at war.

Kerry may be comfortable with one of the Democrats he’s worked with in the Senate, particularly one who could give a regional or gender balance to the ticket. Possibilities include Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Dianne Feinstein of California.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has repeatedly said she intends to complete her term, which ends in 2006, but has not ruled out running for president in 2008 if Bush is re-elected. If Kerry is well-positioned to win the race this year, however, Clinton may find the ticket too attractive to pass up.

Florida, site of the contested recount in 2000 and a battleground state this year, offers two potential No. 2 candidates – Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson. Kerry campaigned Wednesday in Florida with Nelson and Graham by his side as he began the official process of choosing a running mate.

Kerry exited his vehicle for a town hall meeting and was greeted by a throng of cheering supporters who clearly had the No. 2 spot on their minds.

“Pick Bob Graham!” yelled a man behind the rope line, referring to the state’s senior senator who abandoned his own presidential bid last year.

“Edwards!” responded another in the crowd.

Once inside, Graham gave his Senate colleague a lengthy introduction full of praise for Kerry and condemnation for President Bush.

“John, welcome to Florida,” said Graham, who is retiring from the Senate this year. “You’ve got real friends here.”

During his speech in Orlando, Kerry made an unusual plea for specific donations.

“George Bush has about $200 million and he’s going to start advertising tomorrow. We need to be able to answer him. … We need to get Democrats all across this country, independents, Republicans who want change, go to johnkerry.com and start sending $10, $20, $50, $100,” Kerry said.

Kerry told a Florida CBS affiliate that it would be a “disservice” to the people being considered to divulge their names. He is especially sensitive to the public scrutiny, having made it to Al Gore’s short list in 2000 only to be passed over for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. “I’ve been through it and wouldn’t do it,” he said.

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