My Thoughts on the Veepstakes
Confession: the term “Veepstakes” makes me cringe. But, alas, I use it nevertheless to describe the Romney campaign’s vetting of potential running mates for Mitt Romney in 2012; the media and punditry’s coverage of the process filled with analysis and predictions; and ultimately Mitt Romney’s decision about who should be the Republican nominee for Vice-President of the United States, one heartbeat away from being leader of the free world.
Political scientists, columnists, cable news pundits, and political consultants debate VP-selection strategies every four years. Here’s some of the classic strategies for VP selection…
- Ticket-Balancing: Whether the presidential candidate tries to pick up a voting demographic they are personally weak on (minority group, religious group, blue-collar workers, union members, etc.) or tries to appeal to a geographic region they need appealability in, the President picks a VP who brings something to the table that is both key to the election and missing from the Presidential nominee’s group of supporters. For example, Romney picks Rubio for hispanic support or Pawlenty for blue collar workers and/or evangelical support.
- Swing State Lock-Up: The argument here is that you pick a prominent leader from a state which is a toss-up in the Electoral College that could potentially bring enough support to win those electoral votes you otherwise might not win. For example, Romney picks Rubio to try to lock up Florida, McDonnell to win Virginia, Ayotte to win New Hampshire, or Portman to win Ohio.
- Who is most prepared to be President?: Whether it’s their strategy or not (for example, it’s hard to believe this was McCain’s reason for picking Palin), most candidates pretend to use this as their primary reason for selecting the VP. Who is the person who, in the case of emergency, would make the best President of the United States and be most prepared to step into the job at a moment’s notice? For Romney, Senator Portman would probably be this person, given his experience in both houses of Congress and in both George Bush Sr. and Jr.’s administrations.
- Attack Dog: Who would be the best attack dog to say things to rile up the base by dishing out red meat and pushing the buttons of the opposing party/ticket? This way, the President can be the good guy, keeping his hands as clean as possible, being “above it all,” while the attack dog VP gets feisty. This would be Chris Christie. Hands down.
- Who moves the needle?: This is the question asked by Presidents that need to go big, swing momentum back in their direction, stop the bleeding. It’s a matter of what is the smartest and best move. It can deal with big risks and big rewards. John McCain needed to move the needle in a big way, so he went with Sarah Palin. She moved the needle in a big way for about a week, through the convention. But then it turned out to not work out very well. The needle move wasn’t permanent. It rarely does. For Mitt Romney, the only three of the possibilities really carry the potential of moving the needle. The charisma, youth, and narrative that Marco Rubio brings could move the needle. Bobby Jindal’s youth, story, experience, and intellect could similarly move the needle. The only possibility that moves the needle in a big way is Condoleezza Rice. She brings a lot of the positives that Sarah Palin brought without any of Palin’s negatives – a minority woman who is feisty, immensely popular with broad swaths of the electorate, experienced in the White House, and extremely brilliant. Her selection would move the needle, but it is uncertain exactly how many more votes she’d bring in the long term. It’s the problem with selecting on the basis of gaining momentum.
Many political scientists, including the ones I studied under at Vanderbilt, insist that voters almost never decide on the basis of the VP pick. People vote for the candidate and the party. But, nevertheless, the Vice President pick usually tells us a lot about the status of the race, how the candidate views his current chances, and what time of leader/decision-maker he is. So regardless of its impact on the results of the race, who Romney picks does matter.
The Cast of Characters who could be Romney’s VP (in no particular order)
*Intrade is a website that takes bets on various events happening. The odds below are the current (as of Tuesday, July 31st) betting percentages on how likely they are to be picked as Romney’s VP.
Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State & former National Security Adviser)
Current Intrade Odds: 5.0%
What She Brings to the Table: She moves the needle more than any of the other possibilities. Her story of growing up in Alabama during the civil rights struggle when the Republicans were the ones helping her father get the right to vote is a compelling one. Her experience at the highest levels of government making decisions with the highest stakes proves she can cut it. Her favorability ratings blow everyone else out of the water. She brings foreign policy credibility to a candidate running primarily on his credibility on the economy.
Joseph’s Odds that she will be Romney’s VP: 15 to 1 – her chances are not as strong as the solid, steady choices of Pawlenty or Portman or as strong as the young, charismatic combo of Jindal and Rubio. BUT, because she has the potential to move the needle, Romney may call on her nonetheless.
Former MN Governor Tim Pawlenty
Current Intrade Odds: 25.7%
What He Brings to the Table: All sources report that Governor Romney leans most heavily towards picking people he’s personally comfortable with, respects, and enjoys campaigning with. Michael Barone refers to this as “the double vanilla ticket” or boring white guy approach. Pawlenty on the ticket could put Minnesota’s electoral votes in play. Although not providing electric excitement to the campaign, he would provide a complete ticket running as outsiders to Washington, governors who were very successful in traditionally Democratic states. When I heard Pawlenty speak at Vanderbilt, he shone as someone who could convey policy preferences through down-to-earth anecdotal stories, appealing to the everyman and the desire for common sense solutions.
Joseph’s Odds that he will be Romney’s VP: 7 to 1 – Right now, most people think Romney’s going to go the solid and steady approach, not rocking the boat, and picking someone he’s personally comfortable with who has proved their policy chops. That points to a decision between Pawlenty and Portman. I believe Portman is more likely (see below).
Senator Rob Portman (Ohio)
Current Intrade Odds: 29.6%
What He Brings to the Table: As this recent article points out, Senator Portman probably has the most diverse experience in federal government with a sterling reputation as both a solid conservative and a respected statesman. With impeccable conservative credentials but a record of working for pragmatic policy solutions with members from both parties, Portman is the name on this list you’re probably least likely to have heard of who has done so much. He served under both President Bushes, and has been a leader in both the House of Representatives and Senate. He doesn’t exactly light up a room, but his reputation, experience, demeanor, and work ethic would make him an excellent Vice-President and effective President if need be. He also is extremely popular in Ohio, which will inevitably once again be a key swing state on election day.
Joseph’s Odds that he will be Romney’s VP: 4 to 1 – He’s the current favorite in my opinion. Romney is comfortable campaigning with him and very comfortable with him personally. He brings credibility in Washington without being known enough to be seen as another example of failed Washington leadership. Obama will inevitably try to tie him to President Bush, but his bipartisan record shows his willingness to work behind the scenes to get real things done over several decades. He brings bonus points for Ohio’s electoral votes.
Senator John Thune (South Dakota)
Current Intrade Odds: 6.6%
What He Brings to the Table: The third-ranking Republican in the Senate, Senator Thune has been nothing but impressive on the national stage since he upset Tom Daschle. As a confident conservative who appeals to everyday, small-town Americans, John Thune brings credibility to the ticket as someone who lives out and fights for his values on a daily basis. With several years as a voice for the national GOP, he’s battle-tested without being tainted as part of the problem. Like Portman and Pawlenty, he’s a safe and solid pick that won’t rock the boat, but won’t move the needle much either.
Joseph’s Odds that he will be Romney’s VP: 25 to 1 – most reports have Thune being a consideration if Romney (for whatever reasons) decides not to have Pawlenty or Portman on the ticket with him. Romney’s reasons for picking Thune would be similar to picking them.
LA Governor Bobby Jindal
Current Intrade Odds: 4.6%
Book: Leadership and Crisis
What He Brings to the Table: Rhodes Scholar. Experience and expertise on health care policy. Devout Christian with impeccable conservative credentials. Someone, like Paul Ryan, who pushed the GOP to not only be against Obama, but stand for and advocate alternative solutions to America’s problems. Minority American. Someone who, after botching an appearance on the national scene rebutting President Obama’s address to Congress, returned to Louisiana and stayed away from the national spotlight, instead working hard to make Louisiana the best state possible. Has focused on education reform. Phenomenal leadership as a Congressman during crisis. Executive experience.
Joseph’s Odds that he will be Romney’s VP: 12 to 1 – Bobby Jindal is probably my personal favorite. Of these ten, to me, he’s the one who combines the best of all the qualities Romney should be looking for. He has executive and legislative experience. He understands the perspective of the states and federal government. He has a wonderful personal narrative. He’s solid on health care policy, where Romney struggles a bit. He’s a policy wonk.
NJ Governor Chris Christie
Current Intrade Odds: 1.2%
What He Brings to the Table: It probably won’t be Christie. But he’d be the ideal attack dog to rally the troops passionately against Obama and the Democrats. He’s someone who is smart and feisty, always good for a joke with some straight-talk. Because of this, he’s respected by so many, including his enemies. You know what you’re getting with Christie, and it’s someone who will fight to get done what he thinks is right, no matter how much flack it will bring him.
Joseph’s Odds that he will be Romney’s VP: 70 to 1 – probably won’t be Chris Christie for many reasons. He doesn’t have much desire to run. He’d rather have a voice, like giving the keynote address at the GOP Convention, which he’s rumored to be giving.
Senator Marco Rubio (Florida)
Current Intrade Odds: 9.0%
What He Brings to the Table: Everyone from Rudy Giuliani (America’s Mayor!) to Jeb Bush (an outsider hope of mine for VP) says Rubio would be the best pick. He’s the charismatic up-and-comer with a personal narrative all GOPers love, allowing him to speak honestly to the hispanic community about why the GOP principles are what’s best for them. He’s worked hard to push the GOP towards serious immigration reform. He would be the perfect VP to be an advocate and spokesperson, a persuader of the masses. He could potentially bring Florida more into Romney’s grasp. He’s the go-to-guy if Romney decides against the solid and steady choices of Pawlenty or Portman.
Joseph’s Odds that he will be Romney’s VP: 10 to 1 – if not Pawlenty and Portman, it’ll probably be Rubio. He brings a lot of buzz with him, the possibility of appealing to a new demographic, and a home state advantage in the perpetual swing state of Florida.
Congressman Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee (Wisconsin)
Current Intrade Odds: 4.9%
What He Brings to the Table: As The New Yorker recently described in their bio of Ryan, Paul Ryan is the #1 policy point man for the GOP right now. He is the one putting out controversial, yet serious plans about how classic limited government principles can be used to solve our country’s biggest problems. He is one of the top leaders in the House of Representatives. He could put Wisconsin more in play for the GOP.
Joseph’s Odds that he will be Romney’s VP: 30 to 1 – As appealing as Ryan is as a serious policy thinker popular with most of Washington, his serious proposals have made him a target of Obama and the left, who have mischaracterized him as an unfeeling archetypal Republican. As many friends have reminded me as I’ve dreamed of a Romney/Ryan ticket, Paul Ryan is most useful to the GOP as a Congressional leader.
Senator Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire)
Current Intrade Odds: 2.2%
What she Brings to the Table: Senator Ayotte, a prominent GOP spokesperson since winning the NH Senate seat in 2010, has an outside chance at the VP slot. If Romney decides to mix things up and shake up the race, he may turn to Ayotte. As a New England mom who is devoutly conservative, she brings a unique position to the GOP table. Charismatic yet having strong policy chops, Ayotte could get the spot. New Hampshire could be a swing state, although it doesn’t carry many electoral votes.
Joseph’s Odds that she will be Romney’s VP: 28 to 1 – probably won’t be Ayotte, but if Romney wants to shake things up with a woman not named Condi, then he could go here. She’s new to Washington and has been a credible GOP voice on the national stage since coming on the scene in the election of 2010.
VA Governor Bob McDonnell
Current Intrade Odds: 3.5%
What He Brings to the Table: He’s a solid southern chief executive who is known for standing up for states rights. He would be an appeal to a electorally juicy swing state in the south that Obama barely won in 2008. It would be an attempt to lock up VA and NC, while pulling in the geographic southern region who loves states rights. McDonnell has much experience in governance and has been a successful chief executive in VA.
Joseph’s Odds that he will be Romney’s VP: 40 to 1 – McDonnell is a long shot, but has to be on the list if Romney decides he needs some southern flavor on the ticket not named Rubio or Jindal. What McDonnell DOES have going for him is VA’s large electoral vote count. So you never know…
If I could personally pick Romney’s VP for him, I’d probably go with Jindal, Condi, or Christie. But we don’t live in a perfect world and we have to work with what we’ve got. Because of that, based on what I know and have read, I’d prefer Jindal or Rubio. But I still think these guys are #3 and #4 on Romney’s rankings. As I’ve laid out above with my odds, here’s the order of likelihood these ten great Americans will be Romney’s VP. Regardless of what I think or who it is, we’ll find out soon enough. God Bless!
1. Senator Rob Portman
2. Governor Tim Pawlenty
3. Senator Marco Rubio
4. Governor Bobby Jindal
5. Condoleezza Rice
6. Senator John Thune
7. Senator Kelly Ayotte
8. Congressman Paul Ryan
9. Governor Bob McDonnell