We’re already deep into the silly season of a presidential election year called “the veepstakes.” It’s a parlor game all the politicos and journalists play that aims to guess at who a presidential nominee, in this case Mitt Romney, will pick as his running mate.
Contrary to all the attention it receives, the selection of a running mate usually isn’t a game changer. Even bad choices aren’t necessarily fatal to a candidate, witness Bush 41’s 1988 victory even after choosing the historically inept Dan Quayle. For all the ballyhoo Sara Palin got in 2008, both positive and negative, the truth is John McCain was going to lose anyway. The VP candidate usually doesn’t bring the ticket a great number of votes that it would not otherwise have received anyway. Almost no one votes for a president because of who the VP is going to be.
So the prime directive is usually “do no harm.” Nominees are tempted to choose a running mate to win a swing state they need in the electoral college. Hence, the pressure on Mitt Romney to select Marco Rubio of Florida. On paper, Rubio does bring some advantages to a Romney candidacy. He’s young, articulate, Latino, and a tea party favorite. He could shore up some of Romney’s weaknesses, particularly among some Latino voters and conservative Republicans. And, he should be able to help Romney carry Florida.
But he brings some negatives as well. Is he really ready to be president on day one? His back story of his family’s flight from Cuba has also come under scrutiny. Would he really improve Romney’s appeal to Latino voters in New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada – other crucial swing states? And his charisma could also be a problem. No candidate for president wants to be overshadowed by his VP.
If Romney makes his VP call based on winning a swing state, and that’s still a big if, there’s a better option: Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. Yes, Portman’s a safe choice. He’s dull. But he’s very popular in Ohio and would likely deliver that state to Romney. Republicans don’t win the White House without carrying Ohio. Portman is also more seasoned than Rubio and can more credibly pass the “president on day one” test.
So is carrying Ohio more important than carrying Florida? No, Romney will need them both if he is to win. But Romney can carry Florida without naming Rubio the VP. President Obama won 51 percent of the vote in Florida in 2008; this year will undoubtedly be tougher for him. And Romney has some strength in the Sunshine State, ask Newt Gingrich.
Ohio will be tougher for Romney. McCain only won 46 percent of the vote there in 2008. It’s a rust belt state with stronger union support and is always a tough slog for the Republican nominee, whoever it is. So with Portman, Romney could win a two-fer.
But Romney has other options as well. Naming a VP just to win a swing state is a gamble. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican budget czar and tea party darling, is also on the shortlist, and reportedly has very good chemistry with Mitt Romney. But just how close does Romney want to embrace the Ryan budget plan?
Chris Christie? Too bombastic and emotional. VA governor Bob McDonnell? The abortion issue in Virginia may have put it out of reach for him.
There’s always Dick Cheney. He has a new heart.