My objective is to pick out a few candidates who I think would be most beneficial for Romney to choose and to explain why.
But before I do that, let’s look at timing of the announcement. I have heard speculation that Mitt Romney may decide to announce his running mate sooner rather than later. While Mr. Romney has that choice, it is extremely unlikely he will do it.
The announcement of a running mate is like a breath of fresh air; a spark that can rejuvenate a campaign. A running mate gives the public (especially swing voters) a reason to give the candidate a second look.
Just as Sarah Palin did in 2008, the official VP selection has the potential to give a jolt of energy to a campaign that may be flailing. To put it in automotive terms, a NASCAR driver isn’t going to make a pit stop on the fourth lap. They are going to do it when the fuel is low and the tires are worn. Similarly, the Romney campaign will choose to take their pit stop when the fuel is low.
Also, the announcement of a running mate invites vetting. This scrutiny comes from the media, the opposition, and the public. The sooner Mitt Romney announces his VP pick, the sooner that person’s favorabilities are likely to drop. Imagine if Sarah Palin had been selected in June instead of August. Just. Imagine…
The only benefit of Mr. Romney choosing a running mate sooner rather than later would come if he chose a well-known public official who is similarly a favorite of the Republican grassroots. The candidate would need to be well known already in order to diffuse the possibility of something coming out that would either hurt or disqualify the individual in the eyes of the public.
The main goal of selecting a darling of the right early in the election season is to raise money. It is no secret that President Obama’s team is hoping to raise $750+ M, and even though Romney will have various GOP-backed super PACs, it is always more beneficial in a campaign to be able to make your own decisions on where money is going and how it is being spent. A selection like this would surely energize conservative donors to support Romney’s campaign.
However, with the possible exception of Mike Huckabee, there isn’t anyone I can think of who clearly fits that description. There are plenty of “severely conservative” possibilities, but none have been vetted or are well known by the media and the general public, so let’s move on.
Traditionally, with the exception of the obvious “must do no harm” rule, there have been four strategies for selecting a running mate. They are what I call the State Strategy, the Constituency Strategy, the Base Strategy, and the Policy Strategy. All have been used before, and an ideal candidate would fit into all four strategies.
In the age of increased polarization and slim victories, the State Strategy has become increasingly popular, at least in the eyes of pundits. However, so far it seems to be a strategy more employed by Democrats than Republicans.
In 1992, Bill Clinton (in an arguably genius move) opted for a southern state strategy by picking Al Gore as his Vice President. Not only did Clinton win Gore’s home state of Tennessee, but he also carried other traditionally red states such as West Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, and Louisiana.
Most recently, Barack Obama’s pick of Joe Biden could be seen as fitting into the State Strategy. Along with strengthening his numbers with white working class men, a key demographic in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Mr. Biden also provided Obama with something like a hometown pick. Biden, originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania and representing neighboring Delaware, could arguably be credited for Obama’s win in Pennsylvania (though the margin was large enough there that it is likely Obama would have won without Joe on the ticket).
For Mitt Romney, there are plenty of candidates who would fit into the state strategy. Marco Rubio would help out in Florida; Bob McDonnell, the popular governor of Virginia, would surely be an asset in his home state, along with neighboring North Carolina; Ohio Senator Rob Portman has also frequently been mentioned as a possibility. In recent elections, Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin has been a swing state, and Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico, has also been listed as a potential VP.
It is likely Romney will put much weight on the State Strategy, given President Obama’s perceived lead in the current electoral vote count (AP has Obama: 242, Romney 188). However, grabbing one or two states isn’t enough to get to 270; Romney will also need to check some of the other strategic boxes.
The Constituent Strategy is that which places a heavy emphasis on improving the numbers of a particular constituency in the electorate. For example, 2008 was very heavy on the constituent strategy. Obama’s pick of Biden arguably helped Obama (the first African American nominee of a major party) with white voters who were perhaps uneasy about Obama’s race.
Pennsylvania CNN exit polls from both the primary and general election in 2008 reveal how much the gap was closed: Obama received only 37.2% of the white vote in the Pennsylvania primary. However, he would won 48% of the white vote come Election Day in November. As a quick disclaimer, one cannot assume that the vote in the primary will transfer directly to general election vote share, yet it is clear that in the primary fight with Clinton, working class white voters were seen as a clear vulnerability.
The same could be argued for McCain’s reason for picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, though this time with gender in mind. As has been well documented, specifically by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s book Game Change, McCain’s advisers saw a great benefit in choosing a woman to accompany the maverick Senator on the ticket.
Initially, this move proved to be a clear winner for the McCain campaign: before the pick, McCain was trailing Obama 50-42 among white women; after the pick, that margin had reversed to McCain winning the segment 53-41. Had that margin persisted until November, it is likely McCain would be occupying in the Oval Office (Mr. Obama ended up winning white women 51-48).
The Constituency Strategy is likely to also be very appealing to Mr. Romney this year. As has been greatly reported in the past couple months, Mitt is trailing the President badly among women and Hispanics.
Luckily for Romney, there are a few candidates who would have the potential to close those constituency gaps. Marco Rubio has been the most mentioned Hispanic candidate. Not only is he a son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio is currently advocating a version of the Democrat’s DREAM Act. While the move could help Romney among Latino voters, any kind of advocacy for citizenship from the GOP has shown to be a non-starter in the party.
Also, talk has been heating up of Susana Martinez. Not only is she of Hispanic descent; she would also potentially help Mitt with women. Other women possibilities include Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Kelly Ayote of New Hampshire, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Whereas Haley could help with women and potentially other minorities (she is Indian-American), the selection of Brewer would likely have an inverse effect on Hispanic voters because of her strong support of anti-immigration laws in her home state.
Pundits like to say that elections are won or lost in the center; the candidate with the higher share of independent voters is the one who will win. Therefore, it would seem like a no-brainer to pick a running mate who was more towards the ideological center.
However, the truth is that campaigns are not just built by a few people. It takes thousands of volunteers and hours of time and energy to register voters, solicit donations, and build an infrastructure that will take full advantage of the turnout on Election Day. This work is done almost exclusively by partisans.
Again looking back at 2008, it seems as though Sarah Palin fit into the Base Strategy. It was no secret that John McCain was bemoaned by the right wing of his party, and there was little enthusiasm for his candidacy by anyone, specifically conservatives.
Such as it is for Mitt Romney. No one seems to truly love him, and the GOP base certainly does not. There is no doubt that most of true Republicans will still vote for Romney, yet they may not be as active doing so in campaigning and volunteering for him.
Because of the 2010 Tea Party wave, there are certainly a large number of candidates who are well regarded among conservative Republicans and nearly anyone Romney could pick would be perceived to be to the right of him. The problem with many of those choices is that most of them are just not ready for prime time on the national stage. Again, Marco Rubio is a rising star of the right, as is Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bob McDonnell, and even Rick Santorum.
The Policy Strategy places heavy emphasis on key policy credentials that the person at the top of the ticket may lack. These typically include foreign policy, economic policy, and social policy.
The clearest example of the Policy Strategy being employed by a Presidential nominee was in Obama’s choice of Biden. Despite Mr. Obama having very high foreign policy credentials among his base (for being very outspoken about the Iraq War), swing voters still saw him as much of a foreign policy lightweight. There, in retrospect, the selection of Joe Biden, the (at the time) Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was as beneficial as it was predictable.
Because foreign policy is likely to not be a huge factor in the 2012 elections, it is unlikely Mitt Romney will place much emphasis on it, despite his own lack of experience in foreign affairs. One could see Romney choosing someone with strong conservative social policy credentials, as he has in the past supported abortion rights, gay rights, and gun control. However, this would be something that would not appeal to the independent voters who Romney must win.
If the Policy Strategy is used at all, it will likely be to double down on economic policy, with which Mr. Romney is already perceived to be very strong. There is little doubt the economy will be the central theme in the fall, and having the ability to have two economic heavyweights could prove to be a huge asset.
Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, there are relatively few politicians who would fit the bill. Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels are certainly the most plausible candidates, but after them, the list is slim pickings. One could argue that Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman would be great choices… if the former hadn’t shown his political IQ in the debates and the other wasn’t to the left of Mr. Romney. In all reality, the Policy Strategy will likely be the option given the least weight from Romney’s advisers.
So Who Will It Be?
I’ve thrown out a lot of names, and there are some names that didn’t even get a mention yet are probably on the list such as John Thune (SD) and Tim Pawlenty (MN). Romney’s goal will be to check as many strategy boxes as possible. After all, Joe Biden fit into three of the four strategies in 2008. With that said, here is my top five picks, in order:
1.) Marco Rubio: Not only does Rubio likely swing Florida to Romney, his Latino background would likely help the GOP gain on that key demographic in the Southwest, possibly denying Obama wins in Colorado, Nevada, and even New Mexico. Further, he is a huge star in of the right wing, which would excite the party in the same way Sarah Palin did. Romney would just need to make sure Rubio is more prepared than the former GOP VP nominee.
2.) Condoleezza Rice: I realize that Mrs. Rice does not check as many boxes as perhaps others. In her case, she doesn’t need to. Rice is a well-regarded former Secretary of State who continued to have very strong approval ratings even in Bush’s final year of office. She would provide the Romney team with a woman with superb foreign policy credentials who has already been thoroughly vetted by the public. Further, she may provide to a small margin of African Americans a reason to vote for the Republican ticket, which would hurt Obama in states like Virginia and North Carolina. If Romney were to make an early announcement, it should be for announcing Rice.
3.) Bob McDonnell: Governor McDonnell endorsed Romney early and would likely help Romney take Virginia and North Carolina with his current approval rating at 53%. Further, he would probably excite the base, but at a cost: Romney’s approval among women may further erode as Gov. McDonnell was recently supportive of the invasive ultrasound procedure proposed by the VA legislature.
4.) Susana Martinez: Governor Martinez certainly checks some boxes. Not only is she Hispanic, she is also a woman. Mr. Romney must improve his numbers among both constituencies. Further, she is popular in her home state of New Mexico and would help Romney with not only winning her state, but also Colorado and Nevada, with their larger Latino populations.
5.) Paul Ryan: Despite Ryan authoring the so-called “Ryan Budget Plan”, which is reviled by Democrats, Paul Ryan still has a shot at being Romney’s VP. He is young, doubles down on economic policy, and is very well regarded among conservatives. However, even though Romney has endorsed Ryan’s budget, Mr. Ryan may still be deemed too politically volatile to put on the ticket.