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.