WASHINGTON Barack Obama is considering former top military leaders among his possible running mates, according to senators who met Tuesday with the Democratic presidential candidate's vice presidential vetting team.
North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad told The Associated Press that the team asked him about potential candidates from three broad categories current top elected officials, former top elected officials and former top military leaders.
Conrad would not disclose which names they discussed, and the Obama campaign has been keeping the process a closely guarded secret.
"We talked about many names," Conrad said, 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."
A running mate from the military ranks could help address concerns that Obama lacks foreign policy experience, having served just three years in the Senate. It could also provide a counterpoint to the military bonafides of the Republican ticket, which will be led by Vietnam war hero John McCain.
Obama has a three-person team managing the vetting process that includes one-time first daughter Caroline Kennedy, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and Jim Johnson, the former CEO of mortgage lender Fannie Mae.
The vetters have been holding meetings with several Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill to get their input. Conrad met with Holder and Johnson.
"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.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland also met with Johnson and Holder. He also would not disclose names they discussed, but said he advised that any presidential candidate should tap for his No. 2 "someone they feel comfortable with, someone who they believe is qualified in the event they could not serve out the balance of their term for whatever reason, and someone whom they believe will be helpful as they campaign to be elected. And I think Mr. Obama will do that."
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said the discussion involves a lot of names; he declined to provide any. "It ranges all over," Durbin told reporters Tuesday. "Some of them would surprise you, some of them wouldn't."
Asked if it makes sense for Obama to choose a fellow senator, Durbin joked, "Oh, senators think it does."
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 secretary of the Navy under President Clinton.
He 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 and sought the Democratic presidential nomination four years ago. Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who served as Navy secretary under President Reagan, has also been frequently mentioned as a possible running mate.
One name being discussed is retired Gen. James Jones, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, according to a person familiar with the process.
Campaigning in St. Louis, Obama was asked about criticism from McCain of Johnson, who received loans from Countrywide Financial Corp. with the help of the firm's chief executive, Angelo Mozilo. Countrywide is part of a federal investigation in the midst of the subprime mortgage crisis.
Holder has also come under Republican criticism for 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 discrete task, as does Eric Holder, and that is simply to gather up information about potential vice presidential candidates," Obama said. "They are performing that job well. It is a volunteer, unpaid position. ... 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.