3:32 pm - January 21st 2012
contribution by Frank Spring
Mitt Romney is so close to the nomination he can taste it. Barring something genuinely strange, South Carolina is his and he’ll effectively have won the nomination.
Like the dog chasing the bus, he will have to figure out what to do with it once he’s caught it. A big part of that will be deciding on his running mate. His choice of VP is important for two reasons. The first is that it will reflect the broader strategy Romney employs in his effort to defeat Barack Obama.
The second is that it gives his choice an immediate advantage in 2016 in the event the 2012 ticket does not unseat the President.
His focus will be on picking a running mate who can help him win (and, at least in theory, also help him govern).
On the list (or should be):
Marco Rubio – U.S. Senator, Florida. Conventional wisdom has him as the top pick
Upside: His youth and ethnic heritage (Rubio is Cuban-American) are appealing counterparts to Romney’s much-parodied middle-aged blandness. The Tea Party likes him in a way they don’t much like Romney, and, most importantly, Rubio is well-liked in Florida, a state without which Romney will find it extremely difficult to win.
Downside: Contrary to what might be expected, Rubio appears a wash with Hispanic voters outside of Florida, about as many of whom say his appearance on the ticket will make them less likely to vote Republican as say it will make them more likely. This rather undercuts his utility, but he’s still the favourite.
Chris Christie – Governor, New Jersey.
Upside: Christie is the Republican Governor of a generally Democratic state; if Romney wants to appeal to moderate voters, he could find a worse ambassador than Christie, who does a good line in pragmatic conservatism. Could bog the Obama campaign down in New Jersey, a cruel political trick if ever there was one.
Downside: Christie had a severe bout of bad polling last summer, and although he has recovered somewhat, he seems to be one of those odd politicians that people seem to like less the more they see of him; he’d have to be a late announcement. He particularly seems to turn off women, which very likely rules him out.
Nikki Haley – Governor, South Carolina.
Upside: Energetic and personally appealing, Haley could help the Romney campaign shore up independent female voters. She can also galvanize the GOP Christian-right base around the country.
Downside: Like Christie, the more people see of her, the less they like her; her approval ratings in South Carolina are terrible, and still sinking. That’s not immediately relevant electorally (the Republican candidate will certainly win South Carolina), but it does raise a red flag.
Bob McDonnell: Governor, Virginia.
Upside: Hugely popular in a state Obama won in 2008, McDonnell would raise a great deal of money and galvanize the base.
Downside: Although it will be a fight, Obama is unlikely to win Virginia in 2012 anyway. It’s not clear how much McDonnell could open the race beyond white men
and the GOP base.
Rob Portman – U.S. Senator, Ohio.
Upside: Again, VP candidates are rarely selected because they come from a battleground state, but Romney might wish to rethink this. Portman handily won election to the Senate in 2010, beating his appointment by more than 20%; he could cause no end of trouble in the industrial states generally called the Rust Belt.
Downside: If Romney wants to widen the campaign beyond white, generally male voters in industrial states, Portman is not the pick to do it. He’s also a bit of a DC- insider, never a popular thing.
Paul Ryan: U.S. Congressman, Wisconsin.
Upside: Young and articulate, Ryan is the GOP’s intellectual chief and enforcer. He is particularly voluble and animated in criticism of the President’s health care reform, which might appeal to Romney given his own vulnerability on the subject from his days as Governor of Massachusetts. If Romney decides to take a hard run at the President on health care reform, Ryan is his guy.
Downside: Ryan is highly critical of any government involvement in health care, including Medicare. This is the third rail of American politics, and Ryan, at present, lives on it. On that basis, he’s a liability everywhere, including Wisconsin. He’ll get a look, but unless something changes, he’s an unlikely choice.
John Thune: U.S. Senator, South Dakota.
Upside: Considered a real political talent, Thune would be a good choice if Romney decides that the libertarian form of conservatism found in the Great Plains and the West will be a significant part of his campaign narrative.
Downside: It’s not clear how many states, if any, Thune would shift for Romney. He’d have particular appeal in Western states like Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, as well as states with outdoor (particularly hunting) traditions like Michigan and Ohio, but it’s hard to predict how strongly voters will react to him given his limited exposure thus far.
Frank Spring is a director of Zentrum Consulting, a management and political consulting firm.
This is a guest post.
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