James Lee, a former press spokesman for President George H.W. Bush and California Gov. Pete Wilson, is founder and president of the Lee Strategy Group, Inc., a strategic communications consultancy.
With Mitt Romney's official securing of the Republican nomination with his win in Texas and Barack Obama's trial balloon of his 10th new campaign slogan at last count, the stage is set for a summer and fall full of Super PAC ads and political bases that could be charitably described as "unenthused."
With Obama's dispatching of Vice President Joe Biden to essentially pitch a tent and campaign in middle American battleground states such as Ohio and Wisconsin, the lingering question gathering steam is who will Romney pick as his running mate to counter Biden on this magical mystery tour?
Against this backdrop, the Republican presidential candidate has auditioned potential running mates including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. All are strong choices by any conventional standard of running mate vetting, but all share a common characteristic with Romney: They fail to energize both of the two naturally energetic Republican bases—the conservative religious and the Tea Party.
The latter is reveling in its rising potency. The Tea Party sweep in 2010 that ushered in Sens. Rubio, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, but these grassroots conservatives have yet to commit to actively supporting Romney.
Presidential adviser David Axlerod and other members of the Obama brain trust have already made the decision to take a page from the Karl Rove playbook for former President George W. Bush's campaigns and focus on turnout in key battleground states and energize the Democratic base. Clearly the president can't gamble on the economy turning around in time, not with the potential of rising gasoline prices, stubborn unemployment and the prospect of a divided European Union blowing up over debt with France's Socialist changeover and Greece's imminent collapse.
That's why the president's decision to announce his support for gay marriage and the unfurling of his latest campaign slogan of "Forward" strongly mirrors President Bush's 2004 campaign in terms of its narrow focus and reliance on a compelling ground game as Obama tries to recapture the magic of "Hope and Change."
How will Romney do in this environment? The interminable spring primary season gave us a clear view of Mitt Romney's inherent weaknesses as a candidate. He is like a glass of warm milk on a cool night—the heat is slight, and it soon dissipates. Romney's pick of a running mate is therefore even more crucial in providing those qualities he lacks and in a race where social conservatives almost despise him and fiscal conservatives are suspect of him, Romney needs a pick that will galvanize the base and re-energize the shock troops desperately needed for the fall.
Selecting South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint would make for the kind of bold, out-of-the-box selection that his campaign craves and needs. But unlike the reach Sen. John McCain made in plucking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin from obscurity, DeMint is a known and reliable quantity for conservatives.
His leadership of the Senate Conservatives Fund and continued ranking as one of the most conservative members of Congress makes him a darling of the right. But DeMint's work on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including his vocal criticism of President Obama on illegal immigration and the war on terror provide Romney with some heft on foreign policy, while his long-standing opposition of the federal bailouts and support of a balanced-budget amendment bolsters Romney's calls for fiscal prudence.
But the position of presidential running mate is more about attack-dog than policy wonk. In what is sure to be a battle of flaming vitriol, DeMint is more than capable of slam-dunking on Biden and President Obama's policies.
And as a Southern conservative, DeMint's presence on the ticket would be an open call to conservatives in the South and in key battleground states such as Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Pennsylvania to take up arms in the proverbial ground war where Romney is sure to be outspent hugely by Obama.
DeMint is also a "two-fer," with one foot firmly planted in each base. His history as a self-made businessman dovetails with Romney's personal narrative. DeMint's reliability as a stalwart Southern Christian will help offset the qualms many have over Romney's Mormon faith.
While Beth Meyers, Romney's choice to vet potential candidates, scrutinizes a litany of potential choices that reflect similar style and philosophies as Romney, the bold choice lies outside in someone like DeMint. Romney needs to recognize those shortcomings he has and seek someone who can complement him, rather than simply mirror him.
In a campaign sure to be marked with historic campaign expenditures, especially from Super PACS, Romney's selection of DeMint would do well to focus his campaign on energizing a base that is already looking for any reason to come out and defeat the President.
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