How Romney Might Rate the VP Contenders

How Romney Might Rate the VP Contenders

By Sean Trende - July 17, 2012

I've avoided "veepstakes" pieces this cycle. RCP's Scott Conroy really hit the proverbial nail on the head back in June, when he observed that running-mate predictions tend to miss the mark (this is, for whatever reason, especially true of GOP picks). Ultimately, we’re trying to make a prediction about the actions of a single individual, about whom we really know very little. This makes it very difficult to do.

So rather than make an out-and-out prediction, I thought it would be worthwhile to engage in a bit of a “pre-buttal” to the selection. I’ve created a grid featuring the potential picks I’ve heard the most about, evaluated against 10 factors that probably inform Mitt Romney’s thinking. Those factors are:

1) Socially conservative: Romney’s pick will almost certainly have to tick this box. Social conservatism tends to be a requirement for winning the Republican nomination, but given Romney’s questionable conservative history on social issues, it is probably especially important to him. Given his late flip-flop on abortion, I’ve given pro-choice picks a negative one, as such a selection would probably invite an outright rebellion at the convention.

2) Not scary: At the same time, Romney has to avoid choosing a running mate whose social conservatism would become a lightning rod, and tend to dominate the debate. There are years where a fight over social issues helps the GOP, but this probably isn’t one of them.

3) Swing state: VP selections probably aren’t worth more than a point or two in a given state. That said, in a close election (which most expect this one to be) a point or two can make a big difference.

4) Swing demographic: Similar to swing state -- if a candidate can appeal to a critical swing constituency, especially one disproportionately represented in a key swing state, it can move the dial enough to make a difference. Simply put, if Al Gore hadn’t picked Joe Lieberman as his running mate, Florida probably would not have gone down to a recount.

5) Governor: One of the best things that Romney has going for him is that he hasn’t been in Washington the past few years. Picking someone else from outside the Beltway would be a plus for him. Moreover, “competent executive” is one of Romney’s campaign themes; picking another executive reinforces this argument.

6) No Bush connections: At the same time, Romney doesn’t want to play directly into the Democrats’ arguments. Nothing will be repeated more often than the assertion that electing Romney would mean a return to the policies of George W. Bush. Picking someone who served in Bush’s administration would only reinforce that line of attack.

7) Adequate experience: Call this the “Palin issue.” Romney will want someone who is ready for prime time, and who preferably has served at least a full term in office.

8) “First do no harm”: To be sure, every vice presidential pick opens up new lines of attack, as no politician is without his or her warts. At the same time, some attacks hurt more than others, some politicians would overshadow Romney, and some politicians are particularly gaffe-prone.

9) Excites the base: Romney doesn’t exactly excite conservatives; he’s largely relying upon discontent with President Obama to turn out the base. A vice president who excites the base in the way Palin did in ’08 (without the negatives) would be a substantial asset.

10) Loyalty: All politicians appreciate this trait and want to reward it. This isn’t a year like 1980 for the Republicans or 1960 for the Democrats, where there are obvious benefits to selecting an opponent from a different wing of the party in order to promote party unity or to seek regional advantage. Romney will prefer someone who has been a “Romney guy” all along; I gave credit to anyone who endorsed Romney before February.

Let’s now analyze each factor against each vice presidential choice:

1) Tim Pawlenty. You can see why he tops so many lists. The Minnesota governor really checks off almost all of the boxes: He’s socially conservative, without any unusually socially conservative views; he’s from a state that has moved steadily toward the Republicans over the past few decades (in terms of PVI); and he connects with the coveted blue-collar white demographic. He’s an experienced governor with no significant Bush ties, and he endorsed Romney early on. The only major drawback is that the base would yawn; if he were more exciting, he’d be the obvious choice.

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Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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