- Front Page
- Municipal Affairs
- Bon Voyage
But will it matter?
June 12, 2012
TORONTO, ON, Jun 12, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Now that Mitt Romney has locked-up the Republican presidential nomination, speculation turns to the issue of who he’ll choose as running mate. But will it matter?
While every cycle invariably generates reams of copy on the vice-presidential question, it’s hard to find modern examples of a situation where the choice actually made a difference. Indeed, one has to go all the way back to Kennedy-Nixon in 1960 for a plausible case.
That election was excruciatingly close – 112,000 votes out of a total of just under 69 million. And a very strong argument can be made that JFK’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, was the deciding factor.
Thank LBJ for Camelot
Looking at the state-by-state results and contemporary trends, Johnson may well have made the difference in at least four very close states: his native Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and New Mexico. Between them, they accounted for 50 electoral votes, enough to have made Richard Nixon president.
To JFK’s inner circle, Johnson was a crude and vulgar Texan. Bobby Kennedy particularly despised him. But without Johnson’s presence on the ticket, there would have probably been no elegant Camelot-on-the-Potomac.
Johnson aside, vice-presidential candidates don’t usually deliver much. Many, such as John Edwards in 2004, weren’t even able to deliver their own state.
Still, it’s reasonable to ask whether 2012 will resemble 1960 in the sense of being close enough for a shrewd running mate pick to make the difference. Certainly, it’s starting to shape up as a much tighter contest than most pundits anticipated a few months ago.
Rather than being comfortably in front, President Barack Obama is currently no more than a couple of points ahead – if that – in most polls. And noted political analyst and statistician Nate Silver now rates him as just ‘a very slight favourite to win re-election.’
(Silver, who is candid about his own generally Democratic preferences, has a finely honed ability to tease predictive truth out of the numbers. In 2008, he accurately called every state except Indiana, and also got every senate race right.)
And if Romney decides to reprise JFK’s strategy and seek an electorally crucial vice-president, three states will be front and centre: Florida, Virginia and Ohio. Every winning Republican in the post-war period has taken all three.
But Romney faces a bigger challenge than JFK did. While the three are winnable and he has choices that could help in each, there’s no Johnson equivalent capable of nudging all of them into his column.
Begin with Florida. Senator Marco Rubio, 41, is considered to be very much a conservative Republican rising star. A Cuban-American, he emerged as something of a giant-killer in 2010, courtesy of a decisive win over the initially favoured Charlie Crist.
No one doubts that Rubio has long-term ambitions to go all the way to the White House. Neither is there much dispute about the value he’d bring to Romney in Florida.
However, there’s the matter of timing. From Rubio’s own perspective, he can afford to wait. And there’s also a sense that he hasn’t yet been around long enough to be fully vetted.
In Virginia, there’s the Republican governor, Bob McDonnell. Overwhelmingly elected in 2009, McDonnell remains popular, particularly when he keeps the focus on economic rather than social issues. But sometimes he finds that hard to do.
Finally, there’s Rob Portman, Republican senator from Ohio. He’s a man with a long political track record – seven terms in congress, federal cabinet member, and now senator. In other words, very much a known commodity.
Boring not necessarily bad
In some quarters, Romney’s critical Ohio primary win is attributed to Portman’s popularity and active support. If he could do the same thing in November, it might determine who is sworn in as president next January.
Of course, a Romney-Portman ticket could be derided as consisting of a pair of ‘boring white guys.’ But perhaps that would be less of a problem than one might think.
After all, those looking for something exotic or exciting aren’t going to vote for Romney anyway. Charisma just isn’t his thing.
On the other hand, if you want to frame the election as being about competent economic management, boring isn’t necessarily bad. Stephen Harper could give lessons.
Troy Media columnist Pat Murphy worked in the Canadian financial services industry for over 30 years. Originally from Ireland, he has a degree in history and economics.
Read more Pat Murphy
This column is FREE to use on your websites or in your publications. However, Troy Media, with a link to its web site, MUST be credited.