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Romney VP Selection- Part 1: The Governors

With Romney now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, speculation in the race will shift to his choice of a Vice Presidential running mate. Don’t expect a decision any time soon. This allows us enough time and space to debate and speculate on who it should be. The Republican convention will begin on August 27th. Generally speaking, the Presidential nominee makes their choice sometime near the convention, usually two days before as both McCain and Obama did in 2008. The only exception in recent politics since 1972 was John Kerry’s choice of John Edwards in 2004 (20 days before the convention).

Obviously, the eventual nominee must survive not only a personal, but a political vetting process. Either may necessarily eliminate the name out of the gates. Using extreme examples, a David Vitter (although not mentioned) would be eliminated. I would add the name of Jim DeMint for political, not personal reasons. Realizing that a person like DeMint would certainly energize the conservative base of the GOP and many readers here, the choice also may be perceived or portrayed as pandering to that conservative base and creating a media-created theory of a rift within the Republican Party that
“forced” Romney’s hand in the selection. Instead of going on the attack against Obama’s dubious record, it would create a distraction where Romney would be defending his choice. Personally, I have no problems with Jim DeMint. He is certainly consistent and principled and appeals to the conservative base of the GOP and Tea Party elements.

It is also doubtful that Romney will choose any of his former primary opponents. Santorum, Cain, Bachmann, Gingrich, Paul and Perry all showed vulnerabilities during the primaries that would exclude them out of the gate also. Additionally, they all provided enough attack fodder against Romney that the Democrats will likely use. Explaining away those attacks as “just part of the primary process” is yet another unnecessary distraction.

There is also the mistaken belief that Romney will choose someone from a “swing state.” In actuality, if one looks at selections of VPs since 1960, that does not hold true, although it certainly seemed to be a consideration from 1900-1956. But look at the history. Was the choice of Dick Cheney based on a belief Wyoming was a swing state, or the choice of Biden from Delaware, or even Sarah Palin from Alaska? Even choices like Dan Quayle hailed from a state that was/is safely Republican. And some Democratic choices came from states where the Presidential nominee had no realistic expectation of victory (Jack Kemp, John Edwards, Lloyd Bentsen). The lesson is that selection is not predicated upon shoring up a swing state.

The choice is more important now in a certain sense, but not as important as many think. It is important in the sense that a Vice Presidential debate is now part of the campaign and the role of the media, especially the Internet, keeps the Vice Presidential nominee in the limelight more than occurred in the past. However, the choice is less important because at the end of the day, voters base their choices on preference at the top of the ticket. That is why this talk that Palin costing McCain the election is nonsense. Looking at it in reverse, Lloyd Bentsen, by all accounts, destroyed Dan Quayle in the debate and afterwards in polling, but Dan Quayle WAS Vice President and Lloyd Bentsen WAS NOT!

Among the names in circulation, nine of them are sitting or former Governors. However, Governors, like members of the House, appear to receive more consideration from the media than they do from the person actually making the choice. The only recent examples of the opposite were the choices of Spiro Agnew in 1968 and Sarah Palin in 2008. Given this historical trend and the fact Romney is an ex-Governor, the chances of him choosing a Governor are diminished (although he could conceivably break that mold). Likewise, although names like Paul Ryan and Alan West have been mentioned, the last member of the House actually nominated was Geraldine Ferraro. Additionally, given the already perceived lower stature of the House coupled with the low ratings of Congress in general, the odds are against a Paul Ryan nomination. Also, running against the selection of a Governor is the fact that former Governors at the top of the ticket tend to choose an insider as a running mate: Carter and Mondale, Reagan and Bush, Dukakis and Bentsen, Clinton and Gore, Bush and Cheney.

Now, it is obvious that the choice will emerge from a Vice Presidential “feeder position-” Governor, or federal elected office. Since 1972, that person has averaged 14.5 years of public service in one or several of these positions. Among those names in circulation, the only one who comes close is John Thune.

Hence, with all this in mind, lets look at the Governor names currently being bandied about. Chris Christie of New Jersey is certainly a dynamic rising star in the GOP. Personally, I would like to see a Christie-Biden debate. However, although an early Romney supporter and endorser, that rarely makes a difference. Also, since I live in Jersey, I cannot, quite frankly, understand the conservative enchantment with him. In reality, Christie is more of a moderate than many think. Obviously, his stand against public employee unions, especially teachers, has enhanced his standing among conservatives. But if that is the criteria, then Rick Snyder of Wisconsin would be a better choice. And Christie has stated repeatedly that work he started in New Jersey needs to be finished and that is his main concern. Having met Christie, he is a man of his word and if asked, I would expect him to decline. In a like manner, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, although bringing regional and ethnic diversity to the ticket, is too much of a political neophyte to garner enough attention, plus there is baggage from her run for Governor that will be brought up (wrongly) causing unnecessary distractions.

New Mexico Governor Susannah Martinez would be an interesting choice. In one shot, Romney could choose a woman and Hispanic, two groups where the GOP needs to make inroads. However, to me, that would appear like pandering to this group or that group and rather disingenuous especially given her gubernatorial experience. Likewise, the same could said about Brian Sandoval of Nevada. Mike Huckabee is an experienced person who has been well-vetted on the national stage with broad based appeal to social conservatives. Additionally, he has blue collar appeal. However, he does appear to be moving on from politics. Bob McDonnell hails from a swing state (Virginia) and appears willing and polished. His main drawback may be with women when the Democrats portray him as being their enemy by invoking the “transvaginal ultrasound” specter to the campaign rhetoric.

That leaves us with four very real potential candidates. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota would be a safe, experienced, and well-vetted choice on the national stage. It is doubtful his choice would put Minnesota in play (just as Christie would not put New Jersey in play). But despite his credentials, Pawlenty bombed big and early as a Presidential candidate. If the primary criteria is to select someone that will not overshadow Romney, then Pawlenty would be the safe choice. Someone that fits that mold of gubernatorial and federal experience is Mitch Daniels of Indiana. Given that experience coupled with real-world experience in business (his tenure at Eli Lilly), Daniels comes off as a real-person candidate. I will make no bones about it- I was a strong supporter of Daniels for President. Any doubts I personally have about Romney can be swept aside with this choice. The only problems are: Daniels has not shown a willingness to run for whatever reason, and his ties to the Bush Administration.

Unfortunately, one of the most qualified ex-Governors in the mix and one that would certainly put a swing state into play and possibly over the hump- Florida- has the wrong last name- Bush. Every time Jeb Bush has been on television talk shows, he has impressed. Finally, there is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who has a sterling record in his current position and clearly has executive experience. Additionally, he has federal experience in that he was a representative. Although he has not been totally vetted, he could be a consideration. Hopefully, he has learned from his stiff response to the State of the Union address and improves in that area (that was, quite frankly, an embarrassing performance). He also brings regional and ethnic diversity to the ticket.

In conclusion, should Romney choose a sitting or ex-Governor as a running mate, the safest choices would be Daniels or Pawlenty. The most “against all odds” and courageous choice would be Jeb Bush. The one chosen because of a real or perceived need to shore up his base would be Mike Huckabee. The most likely choice would be Bobby Jindal.

(note: in part 3, I will address potential other Governors. This entry addresses the names most mentioned of late)

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