Romney’s VP choice

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, July 24, 2012


Choosing a vice presidential candidate constitutes one of those odd situations when if you make the right choice, noting happens, but if you make the wrong choice, there will be huge costs.  In the next few weeks, Republican candidate Mitt Romney will announce his choice for a running mate. That announcement will be both a test of Romney’s political abilities and an indication of how Romney assesses the strengths and weaknesses of his campaign.


Presidential candidates use the VP nomination to strengthen their chances of winning in battle ground states, improving their likeability among key electoral blocs or sending a signal about their priorities in case they win office. Candidates try to concurrently optimize as many of those priorities as possible.


Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan chose their running mates to reach out to the opposite party factions. Because the Democratic and Republican parties ended up divided after the primaries, Carter and Reagan used the VP nomination to heal their parties. The first President Bush nominated a VP candidate from a different faction as well, but he also sought to build support in the Midwest battleground by nominating Dan Quayle, a young and telegenic conservative senator from Indiana.  Bill Clinton appointed Al Gore to improve his standing in the South, but he also chose him because Clinton wanted a running mate ideologically and generationally alike. George W. Bush chose a running mate that could make up for his own weakness in experience. As he came from an under populated state that was safely Republican, Dick Cheney did not help securing any battle ground states, but he did help to project the image that Bush was capable of putting together a team of qualified professionals.


In 2008, Barack Obama had a difficult choice. After an extenuating primary battle, he defeated Hillary Clinton. As the junior senator from New York, Clinton represented a safe Democratic state. But as a leading woman politician, she could strengthen Obama’s appeal among a key voting bloc.  In addition, Clinton had built a solid reputation in foreign affairs, one of Obama’s weakest attributes.  In appointing her, Obama would have helped healed the primary wounds. However, the democratic nominee chose Delaware Senator Joe Biden as running mate. Biden had lower poll negatives than Clinton and had a comparable experience in foreign affairs. His age also helped minimize the negative impression that Obama’s youngish image could cause among older voters, presenting a more balanced ticket.


Romney’s decision in 2012 will be heavily influenced by the VP decision made by Republican John McCain in 2008. McCain chose Sarah Palin, a little known governor from Alaska, hoping to counterbalance Obama’s young and fresh image.  Palin turned out to be a headache for McCain, contributing to his defeat.  In 2012, the Republican candidate cannot repeat the same mistake. Romney needs a flawless running mate. Republicans need to avoid another Sarah Palin situation.


As the date for the announcement nears, speculation about the frontrunners has also intensified. In the betting site, the junior senator from Ohio, Rob Portman, leads a list of more than 20 possible VP nominees.  Portman is given a 30% chance of getting the nomination.  The fact that they young senator comes from the battleground state of Ohio and has ample experience in government makes him a good complement to Romney.  Portman is also conservative. Before winning his senate seat in 2010, Portman was a member of the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2005. From 2005 to 2007, Portman served in the Bush administration, first as Trade Representative and then as Director of the Office of Management and Budget.  The association with the Bush administration now constitutes a big liability for Portman.  Though Romney might in fact increase his chances of winning Ohio if he appoints Portman, the Obama team will have an easy target associating the Republican ticket with the still unpopular Bush administration.  


Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty—who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 but withdrew after the first few primaries—is running second in the list of likely vice presidential  nominees.  Though he has a strong and successful record in government—from a state that will vote for Obama—Pawlenty has a dull personality. A Romney-Pawlenty duo will be anything but a rock star ticket.  Another possible Republican VP candidate is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, an up and coming but highly conservative Latino politician whose position on immigration are at odds with those of the majority of Latinos. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is also mentioned among those in the short list.


With the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, just a month away, there is growing pressure on Romney to announce the name of his nominee. Rather than seeking a running mate that can help him win the presidency, Romney will likely choose a candidate with only one objective on mind, someone who will not worsen Romney’s already reduced chances of replacing Barack Obama as the President of the United States.