By John Feehery - 03/12/12 10:08 PM EDT
Rob Portman, Bob McDonnell, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Kelly Ayotte and John Thune have all been auditioning to become the vice presidential nominee — whether they know it or not.
Presidential contenders pick a running mate based primarily on one overwhelming factor: Will that choice help me become president?
George Bush the Second picked Dick Cheney because there was a perception out there that Bush didn’t have the necessary experience to be president. Cheney balanced the experience gap.
President Obama picked Joe Biden to help with experience (theoretically) and to help with white ethnic voters. Joe can talk Irish Catholic with the best of them.
The worst vice presidential picks lack a clear rationale. It is a mystery why Dick Nixon picked Spiro Agnew or why George Bush the First picked Dan Quayle.
Picking a woman to balance the ticket hasn’t proven to be an effective strategy to get to the Oval Office. Geraldine Ferraro couldn’t stop Reagan’s landslide, and Sarah Palin, well, we all know about Sarah Palin.
Jimmy Carter and Jack Kennedy picked their vice presidents to provide regional balance. Kennedy didn’t much care for Lyndon Johnson, and the hatred between the Kennedys and the former Texas senator only intensified after the president was assassinated in the vice president’s home state. Fritz Mondale was more liberal than the Georgia governor, which probably helped above the Mason-Dixon line.
Dwight Eisenhower had little regard for Richard Nixon, but put him on the ticket to shore up his conservative base. On several occasions, Ike considered kicking him out as his vice presidential candidate, including one occasion where Nixon had to give a national address citing his dog Checkers in a bid to save his place on the ticket.
Bill Clinton’s partnership with Al Gore was unusual. It didn’t provide much regional balance (Tennessee and Arkansas aren’t that far from each other), nor did it provide an ideological balance (both were basically centrists). Gore did have more federal experience than Clinton, but both were cut from the same cloth.
Picking a vice president because that candidate can deliver a state or a region hasn’t generally been at the top of the reasons why candidates pick a certain candidate in the past several elections, with the possible exception of John Kerry’s pick of John Edwards in 2004. Delaware, Alaska and Wyoming don’t have too many electoral votes.
That is not to say that Mitt Romney wouldn’t go there this time around. The most important states in this coming election are Ohio and Florida, which would lead to the conclusion that Rob Portman and Marco Rubio are high on Romney’s list.
Portman has deep federal experience (serving on the White House staff, as the head of USTR and as OMB director), which would certainly give the former Massachusetts governor a leg up as he assumes office. Rubio is beloved by conservatives and would be the first Hispanic candidate on the ticket, which theoretically could help deliver an increasingly important voting bloc to the Romney ticket.
Bob McDonnell is both a Catholic and a true red-state conservative, and Virginia went for Obama in the last election. Chris Christie would give the Romney ticket a passion that it currently lacks, although it is an open question if Christie could deliver New Jersey for the Massachusetts governor (not much regional diversity in that pick).
Mitt Romney has said that his first criterion for picking a vice president would be that candidate’s ability to do the job as president, should the need arise. That would be a refreshing departure from the rationale employed by his rival in the last election, John McCain.
Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com