There exists the outside possibility that Mitt Romney will not choose those in the upper tier of names mentioned for Vice President, but perhaps a dark horse running mate. There is no shortage of names mentioned out there.
First, let me dismiss some notions out of hand. Scott Brown will not be considered nor will Mary Fallin (the Governor of Oklahoma), John Kasich (the Governor of Ohio) or Rick Snyder (the Governor-hopefully- of Wisconsin). Yes, I have read where these names have been mentioned, although they were likely suggested as part of a wish list from someone in Oklahoma, Ohio or Wisconsin. Likewise, I have heard the name Eric Cantor mentioned (unlikely since he is a member of the House) and many conservatives have doubts about his leadership in Congress. Also, he is way too much of a Washington insider to garner serious consideration. Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins would certainly be interesting, but the selection of either…well, then he should just pick Dick Lugar who is looking for a job. The same can be said of Judd Gregg.
However, there are a few names that do make sense for various reasons. Instead, I will focus on five or six interesting choices. First, lets construct the composite ideal candidate based on recent trends. They will likely not be a sitting member of the House, although they could be a current or former Senator. They will have experience in Washington, but not enough to be listed as an “insider.” That is, they have to straddle that line between experience and “outsider” status. True, they could have the average 14.5 years experience in DC, but they would likely be under the radar. Preferably, they were not an important figure within the Bush Administration. They will likely not be from the northeast or upper midwest- two regions associated with Romney (born in Michigan/Governor of Massachusetts). They will be someone who will not overshadow Romney at the top of the ticket- not necessarily a technocrat, but not a bomb-thrower either. They will be someone to the right of Romney to shore up the right flank and at least alleviate the fears of conservatives, if not eliminate them. They need not be a member of a minority group or a woman and those criteria alone will not determine the choice.
If Romney wanted to go way, way out of the box, there is Heath Schuler of North Carolina, a retiring Congressman. He is a Democrat also. Before one dismisses this choice out of hand, the fact remains that Schuler probably has more in common with the GOP than the Democratic Party given his voting record in Congress. While many of his votes were predicated on the views of his constituency, if Romney wanted to hammer bipartisanship- something Obama failed to deliver on- then what can be a better choice than choosing a right of center Democrat? Also, he unsuccessfully took on Pelosi for the Democratic leadership on the House, but lost. Obviously, the biggest drawback would be his appeal to the conservative base because although there is plenty to like about his record in the House, there is also plenty to dislike. He would be an interesting choice, but considering that he would likely have lost his district this year, he cannot deliver North Carolina to Romney. The chances of him being selected is somewhere less than 1%. However, playing the “bipartisanship” card did little to help McCain with his selection of Joe Lieberman.
Five-term Governor of Iowa Terry Branstad is another choice that has been bandied about in some circles. Iowa may be a swing state this year (6 electoral votes) and many political pundits believe he is a figure who could actually tip the scales for Romney in a swing state. However, this may make the ticket “too midwestern.” Its doubtful that the selection of Branstad would alleviate the concerns of conservatives, especially the Tea Party. Although his social conservative credentials are not in dispute, in 2010 the Iowa Tea Party failed to endorse his candidacy for Governor citing his propensity to raise taxes. Also, he has precious little experience in Washington having spent some time on a Commission on Excellence in Special Education during the Bush Administration.
One name that has been heard more in some circles is that of Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington. Visibility is an important consideration here. Although she is currently the fourth highest ranked Republican in the House and highest ranked female Republican, she is not known outside her eastern Washington district centered in Spokane. She has the requisite Washington experience having served in the House since 2005. She would be one of those under-the-radar “insiders,” but because of her leadership position within the GOP in the House, she could be perceived as “too establishment” for some elements in the Republican Party.
If Romney wanted to go the female/minority route, there is no better qualified person than Condolezza Rice. Of course, despite a strong online campaign by some elements, Rice has removed her name from consideration. And upon deeper analysis, Rice would simply enhance the ticket’s foreign policy credentials. It is also possible that her service on the Board of Directors of certain companies like TransAmerica and Chevron would be used against her in a campaign. Plus, she was a very visible and instrumental player in the Bush Administration. Yet, those pop-up online polls touting Rice still exist. Rice’s chances are about equal to those of Schuler.
John Barrasso, the junior Senator from Wyoming, has been mentioned in some circles. In his initial run for Senate in 1996 to fill the seat vacated by Alan Simpson, he ran against Enzi as a pro-choice, moderate Republican- something that will come back to haunt him in a Vice Presidential run, and a stand that will not endear him to conservatives. Since joining the Senate, he does, however, have a conservative voting record. However, explaining his “evolution” from moderate Republican to conservative Senator would be an unnecessary distraction not only in the general campaign, but within the Republican Party.
Finally, there is Tom Coburn, the Senator from Oklahoma. Some have argued that Romney needs a Catholic, preferably doctor on his ticket. Coburn meets half that criteria being a doctor. Although not as ideological as some portray him to be, he is sufficiently to the right of Romney in some areas that he would shore up the conservative vote. But, there are “problems” with a Tom Coburn. The first is his nickname in the Senate- “Dr. No” for his propensity to use holds to block legislation. Secondly, he may be too much of an insider for many. Then there is his involvement, which he refuses to comment on, regarding the Ensign affair controversy that led to that Senator’s resignation. Allegedly, Coburn tried to persuade Ensign to break off the affair with his staffer before the episode became public which is kind of hypocritical for a “family values” Senator. Why would Romney take on that baggage which the media will likely distract the campaign from its central message. Just as some conservatives dream of a DeMint Vice Presidency, a Coburn Vice Presidency is just that- a dream.
I realize there are other names floating around out there- names like Dave Heineman, Sam Brownback, John Hoeven, etc. However, in the end there is one certainty- the nominee will not hail from the northeast or upper midwest and they will likely have minimal, if any, connection to the Bush Administration. It is interesting to note the number of mentioned and qualified women in the ranks of the Republican Party for a party with an alleged “gender gap.” Although varying degrees of probability, I have mentioned Nikki Haley,Kelly Ayotte, Susannah Martinez, Condolezza Rice, Michelle Bachmann, Mary Fallin, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. I am sure that in the ensuing four years, more female names within the GOP ranks will come to the fore (Radtke, Kristi Noem, Jaime Herrera-Beutler come to mind). Yet, who can the Democrats mention with a straight face other than Hillary Clinton? President Feinstein? President Klobuchar? Vice President Baldwin? Secretary of HUD Maxine Waters?