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Romney Needs a Latino Running Mate -- But Who?

Romney Needs a Latino Running Mate -- But Who?

By Carl M. Cannon - March 31, 2012


The recent obsession with Etch A Sketch on the part of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich -- courtesy of an inelegant comment made by one of Mitt Romney's aides -- only underscored the obvious: Romney is going to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

Much is left to unsort, including Gingrich's assertion that he’s trying to force a brokered GOP convention in Tampa as well as suspicions voiced by establishment Republicans to the effect that Santorum is sabotaging his party’s inevitable standard-bearer in order to set himself up for a run in 2016.

In the real world, however, the thoughts of Republican Party professionals now turn to the identity of Romney’s running mate. Numerous factors come into play in this choice, the first truly important decision a presidential nominee makes.

Historically, nominees of both parties sought to “balance” a ticket. This exercise in complementing the top of the ticket can be geographical (Massachusetts Democrats John F. Kennedy and Michael Dukakis both picked Texas senators), ideological (Dwight Eisenhower, perceived as a moderate, chose the more conservative Richard Nixon, while conservative Ronald Reagan picked the more moderate George H.W. Bush), or generational (see Quayle, Dan and Palin, Sarah).

The Palin pick was interesting for another reason. Like Walter Mondale in 1984, John McCain sought to offer gender balance to his party’s ticket -- and with equally futile results. These balancing acts make the nominee feel better and satisfy the cravings of the media for a story line with conflict in it, but the truth of the matter is that Americans don’t really vote for the number two person on the ticket.

Nor do they particularly care what the losing candidates in the primary fight have to say. Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom’s minor gaffe about resetting in the general election campaign like “an Etch A Sketch” notwithstanding, that’s what general elections are usually about.

This year may be an exception, however, as some Republicans are whispering in Romney’s ear. What Democrats call “the Republican war on women” is mostly hype, but there is a constituency that the GOP primary season has given short shrift to -- and that constituency is Latinos.

Although it’s axiomatic that Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic group in this country, there is, of course, no bloc Latino vote anymore than Hispanics themselves are monolithic. But loose talk about building moats (stocked with alligators, no less) along the nation’s southern border, enforcing laws designed for ethnic profiling, and “self-deportation” -- this last (inane) formulation is Romney’s own -- has created a crying need for the Republican nominee to send a signal to 40 million Americans that they are not going to be marginalized by the Party of Lincoln.

But this need is also an opportunity for Mitt Romney: He can be the first nominee of a major political party to choose a Hispanic running mate.

So then the question becomes: Who should it be?

Four qualified candidates are apparently under some kind of consideration -- or, if not, should be. They are three governors and one U.S. senator: Govs. Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico. The senator is Marco Rubio of Florida.

If one plays the ticket-balancing game, none of them is perfect on paper. Fortuño (pictured) is governor of state that, not to put too fine a point on it, is not a state yet. And he’s, obviously, Puerto Rican, not Mexican-American, which would help Romney more. That’s an issue with Rubio, too -- his parents came from Cuba -- as is Rubio’s opposition to the DREAM Act, which is popular among rank-and-file Latino voters.

Sandoval is highly regarded in Nevada, but he’s pro-choice on abortion, which would be a problem for any vice presidential nominee in the modern Republican Party, but most especially for Romney, whose own late-in-life conversion on that issue is a source of suspicion among social conservatives.

Martinez’s problems stem less from anything in her makeup or résumé than with a certain movie airing this spring on HBO -- about another Republican governor from a western state who was tapped as a vice-presidential nominee after having been governor for about an hour. But the lesson of Sarah Palin cuts two ways: Her choice thrilled the Republican base, energized the nominee, enlivened the 2008 GOP convention -- and provided a boost in the polls. So maybe Martinez would be a live ticket.

Who else might fit that bill? Perhaps the man from Miami. He’s a fiscal and social conservative who was elected with ardent Tea Party support. He possesses both charisma and experience in Tallahassee as the speaker in the lower house of the state legislature. He is a freshman senator -- as Barack Obama was in 2008 -- and he speaks with passion and precision about his party’s need to make Latinos feel welcome in the political party that was formed to end slavery. Viva Marco!

This column originally appeared on U-T San Diego. 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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