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Breaking Down the GOP Vice Presidential Candidates

by Jessica Iannetta | Syracuse University

F Posted in: News and Politics P Posted on: April 12, 2012
6878658847_f6d68ae2d6_z Image courtesy of Flickr, Gage Skidmore

With Mitt Romney having wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination, the cast of characters for the 2012 election is almost complete.  Only one is lacking: the Republican vice presidential nominee.  While people don’t usually vote for a candidate based on their running mate, poor VP decisions can drive off voters.  A VP pick is one of the first major decisions a candidate makes and gives voters a look at how the nominee makes decisions.  In this sense, Romney’s pick will be an important moment in his campaign.

But what does Romney need in a VP? Perhaps the better question is, what doesn’t he need? With the polarizing nomination of Sarah Palin in 2008 still fresh in the minds of many, the last thing Romney needs is a wild card in the number two slot.  However, Romney has not excited some elements of the GOP base, with very conservative voters seeing him as the better of two options, but not necessarily their favored choice.  The right running mate could bring some much needed life and energy to the Romney campaign. But given his tendencies toward caution and planning, Romney’s pick probably won’t turn too many heads.  He’ll go for someone who is well known and has at least partially been vetted in the media.  In other words, he’ll want to know exactly what he’s getting in his running mate.

Romney’s own personality will also factor into his pick.  A more charismatic number two could easily overshadow Romney’s own personality. Romney will likely also look for someone he’s compatible with and who he feels would be ready to step into the presidency should the need arise.  The Romney team will make sure the VP pick is not seen as a desperate political move, but rather as a carefully thought out decision.  In general, when looking to pick a running mate, the main objective for Romney, as for most candidates, will be to pick someone who will not harm his campaign.  Anything else is bonus.

Bonus for Romney is candidates who can help him get Hispanic, women, or conservative voters.  Issues such as contraception and immigration have driven both women and Hispanics from Romney and the Republican Party.  Picking a Hispanic or a woman as his VP could stop the hemorrhaging of these groups from the party.  Romney also needs to validate his conservative credentials.  The etch-a-sketch gaffe is only the most recent example in a long line of events that have led some voters to not see Romney as a true conservative.  Nominating someone with true conservative credentials could help put those claims to rest.

There has been a lot of coverage of possible candidates in the media lately, from Politico to the Daily Beast to the New York Times.  Below is a breakdown of the names everyone is talking about.

Establishment Guys: Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty

If Romney doesn’t already have the mainstream-party demographic locked down, picking either Portman or Pawlenty will do it.  Both these men have been vetted by the media, would mesh well personality-wise with Romney, and have the experience to step into the presidency right away. Portman’s experience as director of the Office of Management and Budget, his conservative credentials, and his ties with the key swing state of Ohio would bring in voters Romney has been unable to reach. Pawlenty’s rapport with the middle class would also help out Romney, who has struggled to shed an elitist image.  Although Portman’s ties to the Bush administration could be problematic, look for Romney to tap him over Pawlenty if he decides to go this route.  Both these men are safe picks, but they may be too safe.

New Kids on the Block: NJ Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio

Both Christie and Rubio have worked overtime to sing Romney’s praises and present themselves as attractive options.  Christie has actively campaigned for Romney and recently traveled to Israel in order to beef up his foreign policy credentials.  Rubio has endorsed Romney and will release a memoir in June. Both men would please conservatives and have more magnetic personalities than Romney. Rubio would also bring in the Hispanic vote and the swing state of Florida.  There are downsides, though.  There are still many unknowns surrounding Rubio, who has not been fully vetted by the media.  A quick search of YouTube reveals Christie’s unpredictability and short temper, two aspects of his personality that could make him a riskier pick.  If Romney decides to make a more exciting pick for his number two, look for him to go with Rubio.  In general, both these men are high risk, high reward picks.

Political Baggage Included: Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

Ryan and McDonnell both have major upsides, but their political baggage could rule them out of the VP slot.  Ryan is compatible with Romney, and the budget he drafted as chair of the House Budget Committee has made him the man of the moment for the GOP.  Although Romney has endorsed Ryan’s budget, putting him on the ticket ties Romney’s hands and makes it virtually impossible for him to backpedal if the budget issue becomes a political liability.  McDonnell governs a swing state, but his support for a bill that requires women to get ultrasounds before they get an abortion makes some see him a risky pick.  Of the two, Ryan is the far more interesting and likely option, though he’d have to give up his House seat to run as VP.  His stock is rising, and Romney seems to like him, but much depends on what happens with his budget.  Ryan could be the dark horse in this VP race.

Social Conservatives: Fmr. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Fmr. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

It’s no secret that Romney needs help with conservatives, who have slapped the Massachusetts Moderate label on him and are loathe to embrace his candidacy.  Taping either of these two men would solve this problem. Both these men would also help Romney lock up the important religious right vote. However, they could both create more problems than they solve.  Their social conservatism could drive moderates and independents from the Romney tickets and bring social issues such as abortion and contraception to the forefront of the conversation, distracting from Romney’s economic message.  Picking either of these men would come across as a political move, and it looks increasingly like they’ll both have a lot of free time on their hands.

Wildcards: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

If Romney decides to put a woman in the VP slot, these two are the most likely candidates.  Haley actively campaigned for Romney in South Carolina but couldn’t stop him from loosing to Newt Gingrich by a large margin.  Like Rubio, she also has an autobiography coming out and has been making the talk show rounds.  Martinez has stated that she doesn’t want the VP slot but would help bring in the Hispanic vote.  Picking either of these women is extremely risky as they are untested and unknown on the national level and would be seen as a political pick.  Tapping Haley or Martinez would stir up some excitement around the Romney campaign, but probably not the kind Romney wants.

Jessica Iannetta Jessica Iannetta Jessica Iannetta is a NGJ News & Politics Reporter, as well as a newspaper journalism and political science major at Syracuse University. She also serves as a staff writer for the The Daily Orange, SU's student newspaper.

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