The Republican primary resumes today, but it doesn’t matter. When Rick Santorum dropped out of the race a couple of weeks ago, any remaining suspense dissipated. The only question tonight will be Mitt Romney’s margins of victory. (Yes, I realize Newt Gingrich is playing up his chances of winning in Delaware. I also realize that, well, it’s Delaware.)
The conversation quickly moved on to the question of Romney’s running mate, which is a little bit silly. Four months remain before the Republican National Convention, and in my view it would be foolish to name a running mate this far out. If Romney continues to run neck-and-neck with President Obama in the polls or even opens up a sizable lead, he will want to play it safer with his choice than if, say, he falls behind significantly (think Sarah Palin in 2008). It’s too early.
I think the next couple of months will feature more scenes like the one we saw yesterday, with Romney campaigning alongside potential running mates. Yesterday was Marco Rubio, the freshman U.S. senator from Florida, and the pair’s appearance together rekindled the veep speculation that Rubio has sought to tamp down. Look for more of the same given that a couple of Romney’s possible choices hail from the swing states in which he’ll be campaigning a lot: U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Gov. Bob McDonnell (Virginia).
That said, here are a couple of points to keep in mind:
1. Geography — but not in the way you expect. There’s little evidence in recent history that the running mate adds to a ticket’s ability to win his/her home state. Since Ronald Reagan’s landslide 1984 victory, which reset the map, the Republicans have won the vice presidential candidate’s home state six times out of seven and the Democrats four out of seven. Now, 10 out of 14 might sound pretty good, but consider that seven of those victories (five for the GOP, two for Democrats) came in “safe states” — which I define as states that party had won in each of the previous two presidential elections.
So, it wasn’t surprising that the Republicans won Alaska in 2008 (Palin), because they had a track record of winning that state in presidential elections. Ditto for Wyoming in 2004 and 2000 (Dick Cheney), and Indiana in 1992 and 1988 (Dan Quayle) — and, for the Democrats, Delaware in 2008 (Joe Biden) and Connecticut in 2000 (Joe Lieberman).
In the “not safe” states, however, the track record since 1984 is pretty mixed. The GOP has split its efforts, winning Texas in 1984 (George H.W. Bush) after losing it in 1976, but failing in New York in 1996 (Jack Kemp) after losing it the previous two cycles. The Democrats have fared a little worse: Tennessee in 1996 and 1992 (Al Gore) was a hit. But North Carolina in 2004 (John Edwards), Texas in 1988 (Lloyd Bentsen) and New York in 1984 (Geraldine Ferraro) were misses.
So, I’m not convinced Romney will sew up Florida should he pick Rubio, Ohio if he chooses Portman, or Virginia if he selects McDonnell — much less New Jersey if Chris Christie were his running mate. And it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he won, say, Louisiana with Bobby Jindal on the ticket.
2. Experience. By GOP-nominee standards, Romney is wet behind the ears. He will be the first Republican nominee since Gerald Ford not to have won at least two statewide or national elections, and the first since Dwight Eisenhower not to have won at least two elections of any kind. (The two least experienced Democrats to win the presidency were Obama and Jimmy Carter, each of whom had won just one statewide election before entering the White House.)
Ike, of course, had never won any elections before winning the presidency — and, like Ike, Romney is running largely on his experience outside government. If I were Romney, I’d want a running mate with more experience both in government and winning elections. Jindal and McDonnell, each of whom has won statewide office twice and served in other public positions (both elected and appointed) beyond that, would fit the bill. Rubio, Portman and Christie, however, would not.
Now for a side note about Rubio: It might sound like I’m trying to play him down as a candidate. I’m not. However, I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity, for him or the GOP, to put him on the ticket this year. Here’s what I mean:
Let’s assume Romney wins this election and is re-elected in 2016. And then let’s assume his vice president wins in 2020 and 2024. By the time 2028 rolls around, Rubio would have had time either to serve two full terms in the U.S. Senate and be in the middle of his second term as governor of Florida, or to finish this term and serve two full terms as governor; either way, he’d be much more prepared to be president than he is today, or would be in the next four to eight years. And he’d still be just 57 years old in 2028. Now, he would have to worry about voter fatigue with Republicans if they were to hold the presidency for 16 straight years — but then, given that no party has held the presidency that long since FDR and Truman from 1933 to 1953, he probably doesn’t have to worry about that happening.
Bottom line: Rubio has a very bright future, and no need to be impatient for it to arrive.
What do y’all think? Should Romney wait? Who would make a good running mate for him?
– By Kyle Wingfield