Romney's Vice Presidential Pick Will Matter--But Only a Little
Mitt Romney could reinforce his image as a deliberate decision maker
May 30, 2012
Yes, Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick matters, although likely only marginally. People rarely vote on the basis of the vice presidential nominee, and these picks rarely make a significant difference in terms of the election results. If the choice mattered that much, Humphrey-Muskie would have defeated Nixon-Agnew in 1968, and Dukakis-Bentsen would have defeated Bush-Quayle in 1988. The focus on electoral college math also often comes up dry. Lloyd Bentsen failed to bring Texas into the Dukakis column in 1988, and John Edwards failed to achieve excellence in North Carolina in 2004.
So, in what way could Romney's pick make a difference?
Romney's pick could violate the time-honored injunction to "do no harm." Regardless of their relative qualifications, running mates such as Tom Eagleton and Sarah Palin ran into difficulties that distracted from the presidential candidate's primary message, and anything that deflects attention from Romney's message in what is likely to be a close election will only damage his prospects. "Bold" and "adventurous" choices create a buzz that often leads to damage control.
That doesn't mean that a "safe" pick can't make a difference. Ideological, regional, ethnic, or gender balance are time-honored factors in thinking about running mates, and it is possible that a choice based on descriptive characteristics (female, non-white) or swing state math could garner a few extra votes, and there are enough closely-fought swing states this year to provide Romney with an interesting list of possibilities. And like Sen. John McCain four years ago, Romney may decide he needs to reassure his conservative base and energize them for his fall campaign. If Romney can find someone who reassures his base while also avoiding the Sarah Palin problem, he would do well. On the other hand, the right's antipathy for President Obama may be sufficient to energize Romney's conservative voters.
Romney's best choice is to play it safe and choose someone with an ability to govern right away. Any additional considerations would make this a twofer. Such a choice would reinforce Romney's image as a deliberate decision-maker and help focus the fall election on Romney's primary message—the referendum on Obama's performance. If Romney's VP pick can help do that, it will make a difference.