By Teresa Welsh |
As a presidential nominee, Mitt Romney's most significant and scrutinized decision will surely occur when he announces his vice presidential selection. Even though vice presidential picks only marginally influence the choices voters make in November, commentators, scholars, and even to a limited extent the public have come to view the selection as a window into the nominee's temperament and decision-making competencies.
The choice also tends to convey a signal about the campaign's likely strategic direction in the homestretch. Is the nominee looking to shore up his partisan coalition or reach out to swing voters? What message is he trying to reinforce or perhaps, balance? Bill Clinton sought to reinforce his New Democrat credentials with his choice of Al Gore, whereas George W. Bush sought to balance his political dilettante reputation with Dick Cheney's gravitas and experience. Both nominees succeeded in selecting somewhat surprising, but substantively safe choices.
While Wall Street Journal reporter Gerald Seib has rather condescendingly labeled the most-talked about Romney vice presidential prospect, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, as the "un-Palin" (recall scholarly analyses, one and two, that show Palin had some success in rallying the GOP base and almost no effect on outcome of the election), he makes a broader point. And it is this: vice presidential picks shouldn't matter. This is not to say that they won't matter in terms of helping the nominee secure a state or reach out to a particular faction of one's party, but instead if the nominee's campaign is betting on their vice presidential pick to bring home the election, then they're likely already on their way to losing.
Given that Romney is facing an incumbent with an approval rating below 50 percent and the election is tracking close to a toss-up, it's important that he select a vanilla vice presidential nominee. He doesn't need to surprise anyone. He doesn't need a "Hail Mary." Romney needs only to sustain his "steady-as-she-blows" reputation and reinforce his "business = campaign = government managerial" message. Portman not only fits that bill, but also may be able to help Romney swing the key battleground state of Ohio to the Republicans.
Whomever Romney does select, the political fundamentals suggest that his decision will likely be low risk, low reward.
About Lara Brown Author of 'Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants'
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
David Crockett Author of 'Running Against the Grain: How Opposition Candidates Win Presidential Elections'
Michael Marshall Policy Adviser and Communications Director to Former Sen. Bob Dole
Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College