As the fierce battles of the presidential primaries fade into history, the attentions of politicos turn to three questions: Who will win the 2012 presidential race? What electoral strategies will be employed? And who will Mitt Romney pick for his running mate?
Of this trio, the latter is decidedly the least important. Polls show that very few voters change their mind about a candidate due to his vice presidential choice. Historically, vice presidents have done little to carry even their own home states (a recent analysis by Nate Silver suggests the effect is roughly a two-point swing). And the position itself is virtually powerless — if the president isn’t incapacitated in office, his vice president spends most of his time warming a seat and trying not to look bored.
Nonetheless, the veepstakes are the subject of this week’s State of The Race, for no other reason than that it is fun to wildly speculate. If policy issues are a journalist’s vegetables, and the horserace is his dessert, then the quadrennial guess-a-thon over vice presidential choices is the whipped cream on that dessert — the decadent topping on a meal you shouldn’t be eating, but do anyway. And so, in the spirit of adults behaving irresponsibly, here we go:
Mitt Romney will pick as his running mate, a white, middle-aged, Catholic male, who has served as the governor or junior senator of a state that Bush won in 2000, but went to Obama in 2008. This individual will be an outspoken budget hawk, likely with executive experience in balancing budgets, but will have little in the way of foreign policy experience. Also, while socially conservative, this person is not regarded as a leader or prominent member of the religious right.
Give or take.
On InTrade, 10 candidates currently account for about 77 percent of the VP probability distribution. They are as follows:
Rob Portman, junior senator from Ohio and former OMB director
Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana and former OMB director
Kelly Ayotte, junior senator from New Hampshire
The first thing to note about this short list is that most of the names come from states that Mitt Romney should hope to secure, come November. Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and New Hampshire are well known swing states. Indiana is a must-win state for Romney that Obama won in 2008, while Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Jersey are (theoretically) in reach for Romney to take.
Only two of the names offer nothing in terms of home state advantage — John Thune, whose South Dakotan constituents will deliver the state to Romney in all but the most landslide of losses, and Condoleezza Rice, whose state of residence (California) is unlikely to think of her as a favorite son, or vote for Mitt Romney even if they did.
Mitt Romney’s choice between these various swing state options might reflect his expectations for the coming contest — a John Thune or Mitch Daniels would suggest a defensive posture; Portman, Rubio, or McDonnell would suggest a sort of balanced electoral aggression in keeping with a traditional view of which states are winnable; and a Pawlenty, Christie, or Ryan would suggest Romney has plans to upset the electoral map.
The second thing to note is that of the leading names, most are Catholic, or otherwise unlikely to deliver evangelical Christians who may be turned off by Romney’s Mormonism. Rubio, Christie, McDonnell, Ryan, and Ayotte are Catholic. Both Daniels (who publicly asked for religious issues to be put on the back burner) and Rice (who has eschewed most discussion of her religion), though nominally Protestant, would do little to reassure evangelicals. None of the remainder — Portman, Pawlenty, and Thune — are particularly known for their religious fervor, suggesting that InTrade bettors do not think the vice president will be chosen primarily for his or her power in courting the evangelical vote, or, perhaps more broadly, that Mitt Romney does not think his flank is vulnerable on this point.
The single greatest commonality between the leading 10 is their pronounced budget hawkishness. Christie, Daniels, and Ryan have each been outspoken on the issue of reducing the national deficit, and almost all of the names could point to past deeds or words to prove their budget hawk bonafides. Conversely, almost none of the potential picks can claim expertise in the area of foreign policy — in both regards Condoleezza Rice is the exception that proves the rule. The die, it seems, has already been cast — Republicans would like to focus this election on the economy under President Obama and the budget deficits he has accrued.
Six of the 10 names jumped on the Mitt Romney bandwagon early. Pawlenty, Thune, Christie, and Ayotte were early supporters of Mitt Romney, voicing their support before any primaries even took place, while Portman and McDonnell were sure to declare their loyalty within 24 hours of the last respectable presidential rival, Rick Perry, leaving the race. The timeliness of Portman and McDonnell’s support in particular suggests that, despite its reputation as being not worth a bucket of warm piss, the vice presidency is a position that is being actively campaigned for — indeed, a cynical observer might claim that most of the policy initiatives brought forward by Portman and McDonnell in the past year are moves to make them more viable as VP picks.
Predictably, the majority of the top names are middle-aged white men (the exceptions, of course, being Rubio, Ayotte, and Rice). Race and gender, for good or bad, are unlikely to be the determining factors in Mitt Romney’s choice.
Of course, this is all mostly guesswork. You can ask 100 Chinese people what the length of the emperor’s nose is, but if none have actually ever seen him, then their averaged answers aren’t going to be any more accurate than their individual guesses. Nothing says that Mitt Romney has to follow the conventional wisdom when picking his running mate. But the conventional wisdom itself speaks greatly to the type of race we are likely to see.