Opinion

Romney’s considerations for vice president

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Matt Mackowiak
Founder, Potomac Strategy Group
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      Matt Mackowiak

      Matt Mackowiak is a Washington, DC and Austin, TX based political and communications professional and founder of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC, providing political consulting, public and media relations and crisis communications assistance to campaigns, companies, organizations and individuals. In nearly a decade in Washington, DC, he has served in high-level Senate, executive branch, campaign, and private sector environments and has developed a wide range of deep relationships with national, state and local media.

      In addition to offering counsel to political figures and corporations, Matt provides political analysis for the Fox News Channel, ABC News, MSNBC, radio stations throughout the country. Matt’s political analysis has appeared in Politico, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, The Hill, Congressional Quarterly, the Washington Examiner, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Texas Weekly, and on ABCNews.com and he has had columns published in the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, Roll Call, Austin American-Statesman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Des Moines Register, National Review online, Congressional Quarterly and The Daily Beast. Matt has guest lectured at the University of Illinois, the University of Denver, and American University. He has addressed student organizations at Georgetown University, Catholic University, the University of Illinois, Texas Christian University, and American University.

      From 2005-2009 Matt served as Press Secretary to U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT). From 2003-2005 he worked in press at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Tom Ridge and Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson, managed the second largest county in Iowa for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, counseled corporate clients at the international PR firm Burson-Marsteller, and performed White House Presidential and Vice Presidential advance representation all over the country.

      Matt is from Austin, Texas and graduated in 2003 with a B.S. in Communications Studies (Political Communication track) from the University of Texas (UT). Aside from his professional work, he owns and manages the popular blog site www.potomacflacks.com, recently cited by the Washingtonian as one of the best political blogs. In his free time, Matt enjoys sports, live music, UT Athletics and reading biographies.

When it comes to the vice presidential selection process, it’s important to keep in mind the maxim: those who speak don’t know and those who know don’t speak.

But that will not stop me from trying to predict who Mitt Romney will pick to be his running mate.

There appear to be four serious finalists: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ann Romney’s recent admission that they were seriously considering choosing a female vice presidential candidate, most likely Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) or former Secretary of State Condi Rice, is probably a calculated head fake or wishful thinking.

How to rate the four finalists? Consider five criteria, listed in order of presumed importance to Romney:

1.) Risk — In a post-Palin political world, the Hippocratic Oath of “first, do no harm” comes to mind. Of the four finalists, Portman and Pawlenty have been the most thoroughly vetted and thus offer the lowest risk (and perhaps the least excitement). No major controversies were uncovered during Pawlenty’s GOP presidential campaign. Portman ran statewide in Ohio and was twice appointed to cabinet-level positions in the Bush administration, surviving the White House vetting process and Senate confirmation twice with flying colors. Jindal is not as well known nationally, but his resume is remarkable: Rhodes Scholar, health policy expert, Louisiana State University chancellor, congressman, two-term governor. However, his State of the Union response in 2009 was widely panned, leaving the lingering perception that he is not ready for prime time. Ryan, who was shamelessly demagogued for his 2012 and 2013 budgets, would saddle Romney with that political baggage and has never been elected to anything other than Congress. Moreover, both Jindal and Ryan are young.

2.) Geography — No major-party candidate has won the presidency as a result of his vice presidential candidate swinging a major battleground state since Lyndon Johnson won Texas for Kennedy in 1960. The electoral power of vice presidential candidates is often overstated, as polling demonstrates that almost no one casts their presidential votes based on the vice presidential nominees. For Romney, though, choosing Portman or Ryan could help him carry Ohio and Wisconsin, respectively. Romney must win Ohio, and Portman, a former congressman from Cincinnati who easily won election to the U.S. Senate in 2010 after running one of the best campaigns of the cycle, would help. Wisconsin appears to be competitive in light of a great 2010 cycle and the striking victories by Gov. Scott Walker this year in a series of recall elections. Ryan is in a swing district with a party registration disadvantage, but he consistently wins with over 60 percent of the vote. Pawlenty likely cannot put Minnesota in play, but his working-class background could sell in Midwestern battleground states. A Southerner, Jindal would change nothing about the map.

3.) Relationship — It’s important for presidential candidates to connect with their vice presidential picks on a personal level. Romney’s campaign has wisely tested the relationships between Romney and his prospective running mates over a period of several months. Of the four finalists, only Jindal endorsed someone else (Rick Perry), yet all have campaigned publicly for Romney, served as Romney surrogates, raised money for him and been team players since Romney wrapped up the GOP nomination in April. Pawlenty appears to have ingratiated himself with Romney as a low-maintenance, easygoing teammate. Portman was seen as a crucial part of Romney’s critical and narrow victory in Ohio and has been a trusted adviser to the Romney campaign for a long time. Ryan, more policy wonk than political animal, recently stepped up his assistance to the campaign and appeared to click with Romney during Wisconsin rallies earlier this year. Jindal did not overlap as a governor with Romney and likely knows the nominee the least well of the finalists.