By David Hill - 02/19/08 05:56 PM EST
Selecting a presidential running mate should be a fact-based and hard-nosed process that follows a few simple rules of thumb.
First, the potential running mate should be capable of carrying his or her home state for the ticket. This may sound easy, but it’s barely a 50-50 proposition in recent experience. John Edwards didn’t succeed with North Carolina in 2004, nor did Jack Kemp keep the Republican ticket even close in New York in 1996. Al Gore’s Joe Lieberman won Connecticut in 2000. In 1992, Dan Quayle carried Indiana for the GOP when every other industrial Midwestern state went Democrat.
A second consideration is balance. While this principle has lost its appeal with ideological zealots, it’s essential marketing. If you have a moderate nominee from one region, why not pick a conservative or someone from a different part of the country? Good politics are additive, not duplicative. Granted, a presidential nominee cannot stray too far from his or her core positions, lest it confuse voters. But to move a little bit right or left makes perfect sense.
Aside from discerning the potential running mate’s capabilities to serve as president by succession and the required vetting of any skeletons in the closet, the home state and balance rules are about all that should matter.
When Steve Forbes prognosticated two weeks ago on CNBC that Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) will be added to John McCain’s ticket, he may have contemplated these rules of thumb.
Hutchison is one of the few potential running mates who could ensure home-state success. To the surprise of pundits not paying attention to Texas, this is saying something. The Lone Star State is no longer the automatic red state it once was. As the Hispanic population grows, and as some misguided Republicans drive Latinos into the beckoning arms of the Democrats again, Texas Republicans can no longer necessarily count on getting 40 percent of that vote, as was doable in the Bush era. One longtime poll taker in the state recorded a Democratic plurality in voter identification last year. Texas Republicans are going to have to earn their statewide victories once again.
Sen. Hutchison has proven she can handle this challenge. In 2000, she captured the most votes in Texas history, tallying more than 4 million ballots. Hutchison knows how to win even when the Democrats are surging. After all, she was the first-ever Republican woman elected to the state legislature and the first female elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas. If Hillary Clinton’s bid fails, Hutchison will be ideally positioned to gain votes from voters wanting symbolic gains for women.
As a bonus, Hutchison would burnish John McCain’s conservative credentials in Texas and elsewhere. The American Conservative Union confers a lifetime rating of 90.4 percent on the Dallas senator, higher than a conservative stalwart like Mitch McConnell (89.7 percent) or McCain himself (82.3 percent). The National Rifle Association awards Hutchison its highest rating. The pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce assigns the Texan a rating of 92 percent. And Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform gives her a 95 percent rating. In the school of conservative politics, Kay Bailey Hutchison is the super-smart girl who sits in the first row, an all-A’s student whom John McCain should want in his study group
All of these benefits come without sacrificing any credibility on McCain’s core strength in national security and appeal among veterans. Hutchison is ranking member on the Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations subcommittee and a member of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. Recently she has been fighting for a bill she introduced that would cancel Veterans Administration debts of those killed in service to the nation. Veterans will warmly welcome that sort of thinking to the Republican ticket.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.