As chairman of the 60 Plus Association, the established conservative alternative to the liberal AARP, I’m often asked who seniors think Mitt Romney should choose for the ticket. Out of our 7.2 million senior citizen activists nationally, 60 Plus has some 790,000 seniors in the Sunshine State. Coupled with the fact I grew up in Florida and our national spokesman, legendary singer Pat Boone, was born in Jacksonville, there is a natural lean toward Marco Rubio. But setting aside my personal biases, below I offer the unofficial “Senior VP Sweepstakes” preview that reflects input I’ve received from seniors all across the country.
Shameless disclaimer: The following is pure speculation and conjecture — pretty much like most of the president’s budgets (couldn’t resist). So in the vein of laying my cards on the table and admitting like Sergeant Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes” TV fame that “we know nothing,” I present, in no particular order, my thoughts on the contenders for riding shotgun on the GOP presidential ticket.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley: Governor Haley is a tremendous campaigner, and if the Democrats attempt to re-dredge up their “War on Women” rhetoric, they’ll step on a landmine with Haley on the ticket. Democrats have already learned this with the governor’s successive triumphs against their perpetual campaign to pin her with ethics charges. With South Carolina a safe bet for Romney this November, the odds of a Romney-Haley ticket are extremely low. While the nearly 58,000 supporters of 60 Plus in the Palmetto State would like to see Haley’s combative, anti-establishment brand of politics on the national stage, chances are they won’t get their wish in 2012.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell: Having lived in Virginia for over 40 years, I’ve come to view Bob McDonnell as the perfect anti-Democrat, by which I mean his opponents target him with an ideological label, but in truth he’s a pragmatic conservative who’s extraordinarily gifted in reaching consensus across the aisle. This is in direct contrast to Democrats like Obama and our old pal Al Gore, who campaign as pragmatists but in reality are hardcore zealots. Governor McDonnell’s Democratic opponent tagged him as an extremist in the 2009 election, and didn’t reach 40% of the vote. If McDonnell is the choice, the 157,000 60 Plus seniors in the Old Dominion can only hope the Democrats dust off the “extremist” charge for old times’ sake.
Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice: Condi has taken the gloves off of late on the Obama administration, showing a different side to her cool, diplomatic persona that most Americans have come to know. We can only say — we like it! Another bonus: Her fluent Russian could come in handy when she needs to tell Vladimir Putin in words he can’t misinterpret that the days of America as a doormat are over. Further, having to debate her could cause cruel and unusual things to happen to Joe Biden’s brain. The Eighth Amendment aside, having a respected, national figure like Condoleeza Rice on the ticket would make 2012 a presidential campaign like no other.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman: This swing-state senator has gone from dark horse to seeming front-runner in recent months, with his name popping up on just about every list as a personal favorite of Romney. Many political spectators glued to the veepstakes consider Portman the consensus “boring” choice, and start to reflexively yawn before his name fully hits their ears. That can be both a blessing and a curse in 2012. After all, this election should be about Obama’s failed policies, not his challenger’s running mate. Portman is solid, reliable and respected, and 60 Plus’s nearly 304,000 supporters in Ohio would feel very good indeed with this pick, a man whom I’ve been friends with since his days in the House of Representatives.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty: Pawlenty was the first major contender to drop out of the presidential horserace, but VP might turn out to be more his speed. Pawlenty has a solid conservative track record and is liked by nearly everyone in the GOP and in the conservative movement. His demeanor is agreeable and pleasant, with a warm Midwest charm that did wonders to cleanse the palates of Minnesotans from the memory of pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura (no small public service). Word is Romney feels very comfortable with him, though some wonder whether our nominee should reward a state that never voted for Ronald Reagan by picking a running mate from its ranks. In all seriousness, the nearly 68,000 60 Plus supporters in the Land of 10,000 Lakes would be happy indeed to see their former governor lead a Republican resurgence in America’s Scandinavian beltway.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels: Like Portman, Daniels is a “bland, boring white guy.” Well, if presiding over a growing economy and socking away surpluses while neighboring states drown in debt and job losses (yes, we’re looking at you, Illinois and Michigan), then okay, Governor Daniels is very boring. Indiana may be a GOP lock this year, but Daniels brings a walking, talking advertisement for the success of conservative governance. The 145,000 Hoosier supporters of 60 Plus say he is not flashy, just wildly successful at his job. The country sorely needs more leaders like the “Blade,” the nickname President George W. Bush gave Daniels for his deftness at trimming bloated budgets.
Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey: Okay, Romney-Toomey sounds a little like Richard Nixon’s “Laugh-In” line, “sock it to me,” but the potential of this ticket shouldn’t be disparaged because it doesn’t roll off the tongue. Senator Toomey is a solid conservative with business and job-creation experience, a Harvard degree and a working-class background, making him a hero to our 740,000 senior supporters in the Keystone State. Many don’t know he was a charter member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (his mother is Portuguese). Pennsylvania is within reach for the GOP this year, and Toomey’s regular-guy appeal and Catholic upbringing could play big in the Midwest.
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan: No one is pulling more for Ryan to get the VP nod than a certain unknown actor who tossed an old lady off a cliff while portraying Ryan in that well-publicized political (and despicable) ad. If Romney names Ryan, that actor will get more work than Gene Hackman, and Democratic ads will undoubtedly have him doing increasingly horrendous things to seniors as the election approaches. This only underscores how much the powerful and thoughtful Ryan scares Democrats, who have no answer to his bold and sober plans to save Medicare. Wisconsin is very much in play this year. Could Ryan, who represents its southeastern corner, help deliver the Badger State to the GOP column? The nearly 87,000 Wisconsin supporters of 60 Plus say yes!
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: Choosing Governor Jindal would energize the GOP base, and as a representative figure will help affirm something about America that our current president forgot (or never learned) — that America’s stunning success over the course of the last 230 years is the aggregate result of millions of individuals who combined their initiative with their talents and DID build that. The youthful Jindal (only 41) comes from humble roots and succeeded through his own hard work and smarts, and this is a message dependency-loving Democrats detest but residents of the Pelican State love, including 110,000 60 Plus supporters. An added bonus will be the VP debates. Given Joe Biden’s views on Indian Americans, things could get awkward if the vice president congratulates him openly on his successful chain of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises.
New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte: New Hampshire is a state that should be reliably Republican, but lately the GOP has struggled there because of all the transplanted Massachusetts Democrats fleeing from the state they basically ruined. Ayotte, a former state attorney general, is a competent and attractive choice, and would be a bold one given her recent arrival on the national political scene. She’ll make a strong case for women in combat if she has to fend off David Axelrod’s Chicago attack politics, but our 22,000 supporters in the Live Free or Die State believe she has what it takes and would be a strong asset to the ticket.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio: Senator Rubio is considered far and away the most exciting choice by both activists and campaign watchers, and a favorite pick of both establishment Republicans and tea party rank and file. Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has already said Rubio “scares” him as the choice, a telling endorsement if there ever was one. The Democrats would orchestrate a vast smear campaign if the Florida senator was tapped, as that would be their only way to undercut Rubio’s broad appeal. But once the American people had a chance to hear from Rubio himself and see the substance and character behind the boyish charm, we think this pick would be a home run for Team Romney.
Seniors have as many opinions about the pick as there are candidates, but in the end Romney can only choose one. Though I believe all would be a boost to the ticket, this is probably the year to pick a known commodity. If I were Romney, I’d pick Portman.
Jim Martin is chairman and founder of the 60 Plus Association.