Reporters Track … Mystery Reporter

Sen. John Edwards’ appearance with Sen. John Kerry at a Florida “pool party” last evening stoked the veepstakes flames anew. (No word on the poolside victuals, although Campaign Desk was able to fill up on Adam Smith’s menu report in the St. Petersburg Times: A Kerry luncheon in Tampa yesterday, Smith writes, “featur[ed] stuffed chicken and American flag cakes.”)

The Miami Herald’s Lesley Clark picked up on Edwards’ poolside presence, noting that Sen. Bob Graham and Sen. Bill Nelson also attended assorted Kerry events yesterday. In fact, all three senators “were aboard Kerry’s flight to Miami” yesterday, Clark writes, before confessing that this “spark[ed] speculation among the traveling press corps about the deliberations at the front of the plane.”

The speculators did their best to mask their own identities.

The Boston Globe’s Patrick Healy notes the three senators’ presence on Kerry’s plane, and writes that “Kerry momentarily stepped into the cabin where the press corps sat, and when teased by one reporter about what the four men were discussing, he flashed a grin and spun around back to his seat.” In other words, Kerry rebuffed the mysterious “one reporter” and his efforts to get ammunition for a speculative veepstakes story.

The Associated Press’s Mike Glover also reports on the rebuff — “Kerry has declined to talk about the selection process, and he didn’t answer a reporter’s question Tuesday when asked about his conversations.” In other words, nothing has changed and we have nothing new to report. Nonetheless, Glover’s story was picked up by several newspapers, and USA Today graced it with this headline: “Edwards, Graham, Join Kerry, Fueling Talk of VP Pick.” A more accurate headline might have been: “Idle Reporters Fueling Talk Among Themselves.”

The Los Angeles Times also mentions — in the last paragraph of a Kerry campaign article — that Senators Edwards, Graham and Nelson flew with Kerry and concludes with this: “That put three potential choices for a running mate with Kerry on the short trip.”

To be fair, a Kerry spokesperson did nothing to halt the speculation conflagration when she remarked yesterday, as reported by the Associated Press, “We’re auditioning, want to put your name in?” Perhaps picking up on this comment, the (Raleigh) News & Observer’s John Wagner — reporting from the Bal Harbour pool party — writes of his fellow North Carolinian: “If the vice presidential search were a casting call, Tuesday might well have been Edwards’ audition.” But, Wagner adds, “Edwards didn’t have Tuesday to himself,” noting Graham’s and Nelson’s presence at various events. Then, swerving north, Wagner sounds the alarm with this tidbit: “On Monday, a fire drill in a Senate office building reportedly exposed another name gaining interest, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana. Bayh emerged from his office with Jim Johnson, head of Kerry’s search committee.”

Which begs the question, assuming it was a false alarm: who tripped the alarm? Well, there is a senator from an arid swing state who might want to get the veepstakes heat off his own hide for a day or so. But we’re not naming him, because we’re not the speculating type.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.