With speculation growing that Mitt Romney may name his vice presidential candidate this week — okay, it’s unlikely, but he’s got to distract from the Bain controversy somehow — it’s time to take a look at who Romney could pick, and what they bring to the ticket, good or bad, from the perspective of the Romney campaign.
Candidates are listed in general order of likelihood they’ll be picked, but of course, only Mitt Romney and his extensive network of rich donors knows for sure.
1. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Portman is in his first term as a Senator from Ohio, having won his seat in the 2010 GOP wave election. Previously, Portman served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. He also served six terms in the House of Representatives.
Pro: Portman is on the list for the same reasons real estate is valuable: location, location, location. Portman hails from Ohio, which is a must-win state for Romney. Unfortunately, Barack Obama has built a steady lead there. If that lead holds, Romney can kiss the White House goodbye. While it’s far from clear that Portman would actually help Romney win the state, the possibility makes him hard to pass up.
Portman also represents the kind of candidate Romney is said to favor — an “incredibly boring white guy,” according to one GOP observer. Portman is incredibly boring, he’s white, and he’s a guy. He wouldn’t be a “game-changer,” ā la Sarah Palin, but he would be a steady, boring, probably reasonably competent backup emergency president.
Finally, Portman is the son of an entrepreneur who built a mid-sized company; that would dove-tail nicely with Romney’s emphasis on business.
Con: Three words: Bush’s Budget Advisor. Portman was head of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush, and is tied directly to a president who exploded the deficit. That makes it harder for Romney to hit Obama on debt. Moreover, the Republicans have spent most of the Obama Administration rebranding as the Tea Party, but Portman is a direct tie to the old guard. Finally, Portman is far from beloved by the right wing of the party.
Summary: Portman has some baggage from being a Bushie, but Ohio is definitely in play, and if Portman can move the needle a few points there, he’d be worth his weight in gold to Romney.
2. Former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Pawlenty served as Governor of Minnesota from 2003 through 2011. Prior to that, he served in the Minnesota House of Representatives as House Majority Leader. He ran unsuccessfully for president this year.
Pro: Pawlenty, like Portman, is an incredibly boring white guy. Unlike Portman, however, he speaks fluent Tea Party. A member of an evangelical church, Pawlenty speaks the language of the GOP base in a way that Portman and Romney don’t. Pawlenty is more conservative than he appears at first blush, so he can win the hearts of the base without scaring off moderates. He also is the son of a truck driver, his mom died when he was 16, and he rose from a modest, middle-class background to become governor. Romney could use someone on the ticket whose parents weren’t cartoonishly rich.
Con: On August 1, 2007, the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring another 50. It did so three months after Pawlenty vetoed a transportation funding bill that would have increased gas taxes, and also increased road and bridge maintenance. Would it have prevented the collapse? Maybe not. But it was symbolic of the sort of penny-wise, pound-foolish approach of many conservatives with regard to infrastructure. Whether it’s fair or not, you can expect the Obama campaign to run lots of images like these in its campaign ads.
One other big disadvantage: Minnesota is not a swing state. It’s solid blue. Given Pawlenty’s finish in the Iowa straw poll, it’s doubtful that he would attract much support in Iowa or Wisconsin, either. He ticks a lot of boxes, but he doesn’t help much to swing any particular state.
Summary: Pawlenty has some advantages over Portman, but he’s not from a swing state. Like Portman, he wouldn’t be a game-changer. He probably wouldn’t be much of a negative, either.
3. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Ryan is the current chair of the House Budget Committee, and has served in the House for seven terms. He worked as a marketing consultant prior to entering politics.
Pro: Ryan, like Pawlenty, has a background that is at least recognizable to mere mortals. His father was a lawyer who died when Ryan was 16; he worked his way through college as a camp counselor and Oscar Meyer Weinermobile driver. He is loved by the right wing of the party, and has been dubbed “serious” by the Beltway cognoscenti. He’s from Wisconsin, which is at least theoretically in play. Finally, Romney is said to personally like Ryan.
Con: Ryan is the author of a proposed budget that features draconian cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Democrats have already used Ryan in ads that show him throwing old people off cliffs. If he ends up on the ticket, expect things to get nasty, quick.
Romney has officially backed Ryan’s budget, but has been vague on specifics so far, mainly because Ryan’s budget touches as many third-rails as it can. So far, he hasn’t been backed into the corner on that, but with Ryan on the ticket, Romney would own Medicare cuts, and that could be deadly.
Additionally, while he’s got a high profile, Ryan is only a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The last member of the House to appear on a major-party ticket was Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, D-N.Y., in 1984, and the last to appear on the GOP ticket was Rep. William E. Miller, D-N.Y., in 1964. One suspects that Romney hopes to do better than the Mondale and Goldwater campaigns did.
Summary: While he’s loved on the right, Ryan is only a congressman, and a congressman with a history of proposing things most Americans oppose. Romney could still pick him, because he would provide a vital link to the party’s right wing. But he would be risking a lot to do so.
4. La. Gov. Bobby Jindal
Jindal has been serving as Governor of Louisiana since 2008. Prior to that, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. The son of Indian immigrants, Jindal has degrees from Brown and Oxford.
Pro: He’s not white, but at least he’s incredibly boring, and a guy. That may not seem like much of a “pro” if you’re not a guy, or boring, but it does mean that Jindal has at least some of the characteristics Romney is looking for. Moreover, because he’d be the first Asian-American to stand on a national ticket, Jindal would at least represent a minor game-changer.
Jindal would do one thing for Romney: he would shore up his anti-choice credentials. Jindal signed harsh anti-choice laws as governor, and has the support of the hard-core right-wingers. Finally, as the son of immigrants, Jindal helps Romney sand off some of the harshest edges of his anti-immigration rhetoric.
Con: Jindal’s one foray into the national spotlight, giving the Republican response to an Obama State of the Union address, was disastrous, drawing comparisons to Mr. Rogers, or Kenneth the Page. While his ethnicity would make him briefly interesting to the nation’s moderates, his utter lack of charisma would hardly excite the rabble. At least he wouldn’t overshadow Romney.
Also, Louisiana is not in play this fall, and neither are any of the states that border it. Romney doesn’t need help winning the South; if he does, he may as well drop out of the race now.
Summary: Jindal is an intriguing pick for Romney, but ultimately he’s only intriguing because of his ethnicity. Leave that aside, and Jindal is pretty identical to Tim Pawlenty — an extremely conservative candidate who comes across blander than his policies. Choosing him might create some temporary buzz, but it’s unlikely to be the kind of pick that gives Romney the White House.
5. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Rubio was elected to the Senate in 2010. Prior to that, he served as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio has been seen as a rising star in GOP politics for some time.
Pro: Mitt Romney has a problem with Latino voters, and maybe, just maybe, Rubio could be the solution, but probably not — Hispanic voters are not monolithic, and Rubio’s Cuban background won’t necessarily win him fans among Mexican-Americans, especially given the fact that his grandfather entered the country illegally, and ended up gaining citizenship because of preferential immigration laws for Cuban exiles.
Still, Rubio would be the first Latino to be on a major ticket, and that couldn’t hurt. Moreover, he hails from Florida, a swing state Romney needs to win in November. Finally, Rubio is well-liked by the Tea Party, and would provide a link between Romney and the GOP base.
Con: Rubio’s statements on his family’s history have been evolving over the years. It turned out that Rubio’s parents left Cuba before Fidel Castro seized control, and were just run-of-the-mill immigrants, rather than brave anti-Communist exiles. He also has a number of financial problems. His immigration stance also rankled some of the nativists in the GOP.
Summary: While Rubio comes from a swing state and could help with Latino voters, oddities in his financial and family histories make it unlikely that Romney would put him on the ticket. Still, he’s the most likely of the second-tier candidates.
6. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
Thune defeated former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in 2004, and won re-election in 2010. Prior to that, Thune served as South Dakota’s at-large U.S. Representative.
Pro: Like Romney, Thune is a politician out of Central Casting. He’s blandly good-looking in a generic white male politician sense. His ability to beat Daschle shows he’s got some political skill.
Con: Outside of political circles, Thune is essentially anonymous. South Dakota is not a swing state, and it’s doubtful Thune could do much to influence neighboring Iowa or Montana. In many ways, it would be like picking Pawlenty or Portman, only less exciting.
Summary: Thune would be a very safe, very boring choice, so you can’t rule him out. But he just doesn’t have the buzz of Pawlenty, Portman, or Ryan, if any of them can be said to have a “buzz.”
7. N.M. Gov. Susana Martnez
Martinez was elected Governor of New Mexico in 2010, becoming the first Latina to serve as an American governor. Martinez served as District Attorney for Doņa Ana County from 1997 until taking office as governor.
Pro: Martinez would be the first Hispanic American to stand on a national ticket, and first non-white woman to do so. She is popular in New Mexico, and would put the reliably-blue state into play. Choosing her would most certainly create buzz, and would help with Latino voters.
Con: Martinez has criticized Romney over his anti-immigrant rhetoric, and that would create significant friction right off the bat. Martinez has been a governor for precisely as long as Sarah Palin had been when John McCain picked her, and while Martinez appears far less disastrously unqualified than Palin, the comparison is not one Romney wants to invite. Finally, if you want an “incredibly boring white guy” for the ticket, Martinez is none of the above.
Summary: Martinez would make a lot of sense from a ticket-balancing standpoint, but her heterodoxy on immigration and lack of significant executive experience make it unlikely that she’ll be picked.
8. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie
Christie became Governor of New Jersey in 2009. Prior to that, he served as U.S. Attorney for the state.
Pro: Christie is the very model of an attack dog. The bombastic governor has been more than willing to attack anyone and everyone, sometimes viciously. It’s hard to imagine an attack he’d shy away from, or a punch he’d pull. He’d serve up plenty of red meat for the base.
Con: The same traits that would make him a good attack dog also make him a bit of a loose cannon. Romney’s camp has wanted a boring white guy, and while Christie is a white guy, he is definitely not boring. Christie would also likely overshadow Romney on the ticket, just as Palin overshadowed McCain. The chances of Christie going rogue are very high.
Additionally, Christie brings quite a bit of baggage to the ticket, enough to make him a risky choice for a campaign already trying to fend off attacks from the Obama campaign.
Summary: The Romney campaign appears to think Christie isn’t worth the headache; rumors are swirling that Christie will give the keynote address at the Republican National Convention. If true, that makes it certain that Christie won’t appear on the ticket.
9. Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell
McDonnell was elected Governor of Virginia in 2009. McDonnell served as Attorney General of Virginia, and was also a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army.
Pro: Virginia is a swing state, and Romney’s path gets a lot easier if he can secure it. That’s pretty much it, but it’s not nothing.
Con: “Gov. Vaginal Probe” became the focal point for anger at extreme anti-choice measures, including one proposed bill that would have mandated vaginal ultrasounds for abortions early in pregnancy. Romney is already struggling with women; adding McDonnell to the ticket would not help that. Also, McDonnell has been seen as actually seeking the vice presidency. In American political kabuki, one never actively seeks the vice presidency. To do so is seen as gauche. That there are very few politicians who would turn down the number two slot on a ticket is beside the point; to actually be seen as seeking the vice presidency is a sign of weakness.
Summary: McDonnell doesn’t have enough positives to outweigh his negatives. If Romney wants a bland white guy from a swing state, he’ll pick Portman.
10. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
Ayotte was elected to the Senate in the 2010 wave election. Prior to that, she served as Attorney General of New Hampshire.
Pro: Ayotte is one of the few women being considered for the ticket, and could help tip New Hampshire, which is likely his only winnable state in New England. She resigned as Attorney General over her opposition to same-sex marriage laws, so she will be more than acceptable to the Christian right.
Con: She resigned as Attorney General over her opposition to same-sex marriage laws, which puts her at odds with the general movement of the country on the issue, and makes her look like an extremist to moderate swing voters. Like Martinez, she has the same experience as Sarah Palin did when tapped for the ticket.
Summary: I tend to think Ayotte’s name has been floated more as an indication that Romney was “looking at women for vice president” rather than out of any serious consideration. It would be very surprising if she was chosen for the ticket.
11. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Rice served as National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State, under President George W. Bush.
Pro: Republicans love to tout Rice as a potential national figure, in no small part because she’s a black woman who is a Republican. That’s not common.
Con: Rice is pro-choice. Anything beyond that is superfluous; Romney can’t pick her without a full-scale revolt from his party.
Summary: Rice was never seriously under consideration for vice president. Matt Drudge floated her name in an unsuccessful attempt to change the narrative from Romney’s tax returns and history at Bain. She may find work in a Romney Administration, but she won’t be living at the Naval Observatory.
12. Someone Else
There’s always the chance of some kind of completely random person being chosen. In 1996, Bob Dole picked Jack Kemp. In 2000, George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney, and Al Gore picked Joe Lieberman. In 2008, John McCain picked Sarah Palin. History is littered with vice presidents chosen out of left field. None of them were considered serious contenders for the second slot before they appeared, suddenly on the ticket.
Pro: If Romney picked, say, Jeb Bush for the ticket, he’d definitely make news. Picking someone random could be a game-changer.
Con: Then again, there’s usually a reason that the random, left-field candidate hasn’t been mentioned seriously. Kemp had been out of electoral politics for a while. Cheney, too. Lieberman was a conservative. Palin was utterly unqualified. And while picking someone “different” can build buzz (see: McCain-Palin ’08), it can also be a disaster (Ibid).
Summary: It may be unlikely that Romney will pick someone outside the box to serve on his ticket, because that doesn’t seem much like Romney’s modus operandi. Nevertheless, until Romney picks someone, he could theoretically pick anyone.
Image Credit: Donkey Hotey