VP rumours swirl as Romney nomination looks certain

Experience, ethnicity, gender, popularity, chemistry...on what criteria will Mitt Romney base his choice of a running mate? takes a look at the field of potential vice presidential candidates.


Photo, clockwise from top left: Condoleezza Rice, Rob Portman, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal.

Hot off primary victories in five northeastern states, US Republican Mitt Romney seems to have finally locked up his party’s presidential nomination.

Now pundits and politicos have turned to rampant speculation over who Romney may choose as his running mate. In other words, let the rumour-mongering begin.

Vice presidential picks are often meant to compensate for a presidential candidate’s perceived weaknesses or to help him expand or balance his appeal: East-Coast purebred JFK picked down-home Texan Lyndon B. Johnson; centrist Bill Clinton selected more liberal Al Gore, while left-leaning Al Gore chose centrist Joe Lieberman; solemn New Englander John Kerry paired off with dashing Southerner John Edwards; the relatively inexperienced Barack Obama and George W. Bush went for seasoned statesmen Joe Biden and Dick Cheney, respectively; and Washington fixture John McCain recruited little-known Sarah Palin in a bid to match the energy and novelty of his opponent’s history-making run.

That last example also suggests the dangers inherent in a hyper-strategic selection of a vice-presidential running mate. Palin’s lack of policy knowledge quickly became apparent several interviews and TV comedy sketches later, she was seen as a liability to the McCain campaign.

So will Romney go a safer route? Here’s a look at some of the options on the table.

‘The bland leading the bland’

If Romney remains true to his cool-headed, businesslike persona, he’ll likely choose one of several experienced, generally respected Republicans. That could be an establishment figure known for working hard and keeping drama to a minimum, like former presidential rival and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or current Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (pictured left). It also could be Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, though his support for a law requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion could alienate the female voters Romney needs.

Garnering more buzz has been mild-mannered Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who worked his way up through the party ranks as an adviser for both Bushes before being elected to Congress. An added advantage is that Portman hails from Ohio, and could help Romney boost his popularity in that crucial swing state.

The problem with Portman – and with the rest of this bunch – is that as mainstream, middle-aged, white male conservatives, they all look and sound a bit too much like Romney himself. Or, as comedian Stephen Colbert described a potential Romney-Portman ticket, “the bland leading the bland”.

Women, minorities, and minority women

Given that Romney suffers significant popularity gaps with women and Latino voters, he may be tempted to pick a running mate who can tick one of those boxes – or, in the case of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (pictured right), both of them. A Tea Party-backed Republican of Mexican descent, known for talking tough on crime and illegal immigration, Martinez could nevertheless come with the same baggage as Palin: insufficient experience and a shaky grasp of history and international relations. The same goes for Florida Senator Marco Rubio, though the charismatic Tea Party favourite and son of Cuban immigrants has been padding his resume with a much-publicised autobiography (to hit stores this summer) and an upcoming foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institution. Rubio’s relatively soft stance on immigration could also compromise Romney’s efforts to rouse the conservative base.

South Carolina’s fresh-faced governor, Indian-American Nikki Haley, may also be seen as too young and too new on the political scene to be a Romney running mate. A slightly more experienced Indian-American, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, is considered even less personally dynamic than Romney himself, and perhaps too conservative to woo the independent voters who often decide US elections; he has argued for teaching creationism in public schools.

Another name that has popped up in the press is New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte (pictured left), who enjoys reasonably high favourability ratings and is frequently praised for projecting competence and polish. But she, too, may be deemed too green, having been elected to office less than two years ago.

Popular but problematic choices

Recent surveys have found New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice topping Republican voters’ preferences for Romney’s running mate. Christie is admired for being an agile politician (he rose to power in a liberal northeastern state) who does not look or sound like a politician; he is overweight, brash, and known for his willingness to confront critics head-on. But those very qualities could make him a risky pick. He is coming off a spate of bad press for calling an Iraq War veteran an “idiot” at a town hall meeting – not really the campaign-trail manner Romney is likely seeking.

Rice, meanwhile, is one of the few members of the Bush administration to emerge with her reputation intact – at least among fellow Republicans, 80% of whom have a favourable opinion of her, according to a CNN poll. Known as a skilled diplomat and intellectual powerhouse, as well as an American success story (she was born into a black family in segregation-era Alabama), Rice would certainly be immune to comparisons to Palin. But like Romney, the refined Rice a concert pianist and dean at prestigious Stanford University is hardly known for her ability to connect to working-class America. Romney and Rice together could make for an overly aloof ticket.

A perfect fit?

The potential vice president best suited for Romney personally is said to be Wisconsin representative and strict fiscal conservative Paul Ryan (pictured right), the man behind the Republican budget proposal that Obama has slammed as “radical”. Romney has heaped praise on Ryan, and the two have shared talks over policy, stories about their time in the Boy Scouts, and sandwiches on the campaign trail. Moreover, Ryan’s blue-collar roots could prove a useful antidote to Romney’s blue-blooded background; the congressman often talks of working odd jobs and receiving Social Security checks as a teenager. Still, Ryan’s proposals to revamp Medicare could rub some independents and senior citizens the wrong way.

There is also the distinct possibility that none of the aforementioned candidates will be the one getting the call this summer, when Romney is expected to announce his running mate. After all, at this point four years ago, hardly anyone knew anything about a certain chipper, telegenic, moose-hunting governor from Alaska.


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