In selecting Sen. Albert Gore Jr. as his running mate, Gov. Bill Clinton has done something not often seen in politics. He has chosen someone who is remarkably similar in many ways:
* Both are from the Border South. Indeed, their states of Arkansas and Tennessee are contiguous. That degree of geographic imbalance has been seen only once in this century. That was in 1948, when Missouri's Harry Truman made Kentucky's Alben Barkley his vice presidential choice.
* Both are Baby Boomers. Governor Clinton will be 46 next month. Senator Gore is 44.
* Both are political careerists. Governor Clinton ran for Congress when he was 28 and has been governor (except for two years) since he was 32. Senator Gore was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives when he was 28, then advanced to the Senate when he was 36.
* Both are Ivy Leaguers -- the governor a Yale man and the senator a Harvard man.
* Both are Baptists.
* Both are moderate liberals who have questioned and rejected many of the policies and some of the core principles of the New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier and Great Society eras.
* Both have the television age's blow-dried political good looks.
If this sounds like a two-peas-in-a-pod ticket, it isn't. Not quite. Unlike Governor Clinton, Senator Gore knows Washington. Unlike the governor, the senator is a Vietnam veteran. Unlike the governor and most Democrats in high office, the senator was an unequivocating supporter of President Bush's policies leading up to Desert Storm.
Probably the key asset that Senator Gore brings to the ticket is his experience in national security and international affairs as a member of the Armed Services Committee. Like most governors, Mr. Clinton is weak in this area.
Senator Gore also brings strength as one of the Senate's best-known environmentalists and an expert on related science and technology issues. It is possible that on these subjects, his views and those of Dan Quayle's are so opposite (as shown by the vice president's leadership of the anti-regulation Competitiveness Council) that their debates on these issues will dominate the vice presidential portion of the campaign.
Just as Sen. Lloyd Bentsen overshadowed Mr. Quayle four yearago, Mr. Gore could do the same this time around. It is an intriguing contrast.
Very few voters make up their minds with regard to the lower halof the ticket. Still, the choice is a defining moment for a presidential candidate. It says much about him. But Governor Clinton has to win or lose this race on the basis of many, many decisions over the next few months, not just this one.
For whatever it is worth, the Truman-Barkley ticket pulled off big upset in 1948.