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,” à 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.
Read more: 2012 presidential election, bob mcdonnell, bobby jindal, chris christie, condoleezza rice, john thune, kelly ayotte, marco rubio, mitt romney, paul ryan, rob portman, susana martinez, tim pawlenty
Image Credit: Donkey Hotey
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