After John McCain’s now notoriously bad “game change” in picking Sarah Palin as his vice president in 2008, many political observers expect Mitt Romney to choose a plain-vanilla running mate (e.g., Rob Portman of Ohio) to face Obama in the fall.
However, as the GOP works hard to overcome the 19-point advantage Obama has among female voters, the Romney campaign is likely to consider choosing a woman to join him on the ticket. Let’s review five possibilities, ranging the from the most similar to Palin to the most different.
Nikki Haley, Governor, South Carolina
Many observers of the veepstakes have wondered if South Carolina’s young governor would be a nice fit on the Romney ticket. Nikki Haley had the strong support of the Tea Party when she was elected in 2010, beating several more well-known and experienced candidates. South Carolina is home to some of the most conservative elements of the Republican Party. If Haley joined Romney’s ticket, she might be able to generate enthusiasm among white evangelicals in particular. Although the deep-red states of the Bible Belt aren’t in any danger of swinging to Obama, Romney did not enjoy much support in the South throughout the primaries.
The most glaring negative for Governor Haley is her similarity to Sarah Palin, who was also a young, inexperienced female governor when she joined the national ticket. This alone probably disqualifies Haley. Although she, like most of those mentioned for vice president, claims to have no interest in the job, the recent publication of her autobiography, Can’t is Not An Option: My American Story, suggests she’s eager to introduce herself on the national stage.
Kelly Ayotte, Junior Senator, New Hampshire
Ayotte has been a strong supporter of Mitt Romney throughout the campaign and would make sense as a potential running mate. She’s a fresh face and has impressive conservative credentials on two issues of particular importance to Republican voters: abortion and crime.
As the Attorney General of New Hampshire, Ayotte defended the state’s right to require parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion against a challenge from Planned Parenthood, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court. While Deputy Attorney General, she was in charge of the homicide unit, successfully prosecuting New Hampshire’s first capital murder case in 60 years.
Despite these positives, however, Kelly Ayotte has two significant factors working against her: She’s from the Northeast, and she could be perceived as Palinesque. Although New Hampshire is considered a swing state this year (Bush won it in 2000, but Obama took the state in 2008), it has only four electoral votes. Putting two candidates from the Northeast on the same ticket might lessen Romney’s appeal to the crucial Midwest swing states. Lastly, any young and inexperienced woman will inevitably appear similar to McCain’s disastrous choice of Palin in 2008.
Susana Martinez, Governor, New Mexico
Governor Martinez might be a particularly good choice for Mitt Romney because she theoretically could help his campaign reach out not only to women, but to Hispanic voters as well. The brutal GOP primary season pushed Romney much further to the right on immigration than he presumably wanted to be as he repositions himself for the general election. As the candidates tried to out-tough each other on immigration and border control, they lost more and more support from Latino voters. In fact, recent polling shows Obama leading Romney among Latinos by 40%.
By picking a Hispanic governor from a state with a large Latino population, Romney could start mending fences with this important group and broaden his geographic appeal to Western voters. Although Governor Martinez might help the ticket in these important areas, it’s far from clear whether she could withstand the national “vetting” that a candidate for national office must undergo. She is, like Gov. Haley from South Carolina, newly elected and unknown outside of her state. In short, this idea also might also fall victim to the Palin problem.
Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator, Texas
Kay Bailey Hutchison has been a senator from Texas since 1993. She is retiring from the Senate at the end of this year and plans to return to private life. But Romney would be wise to consider Hutchinson as a running mate. She’s known in the Senate for being pragmatic, bipartisan and pro-business. She teamed up with Democrat John Kerry in sponsoring legislation to create a national infrastructure bank.
Another plus: Senator Hutchison would not appear similar to Sarah Palin. After serving in the Senate for almost 20 years, Hutchison is well-known to Washington insiders and has plenty of experience campaigning. She also has a deep legislative background, serving on the Appropriations Committee and the Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology.
Perhaps most important to Romney, Hutchison would be a big help in repairing the GOP’s image among women. Senator Hutchison has been the most public face of the Republican effort to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, taking care to highlight the ways that Republicans want to strengthen the legislation and minimizing the more controversial aspects of the bill.
Condoleezza Rice, Former Secretary of State
While the former National Security Advisor is adamant that she has no interest in leaving her professor position at Stanford for an encore in public life, many in the GOP are hoping she has a change of heart. According to a recent poll, Condi Rice topped the list of preferred VP candidates — receiving the support of 26% of registered Republicans.
In addition to her popularity among Republicans, Rice would bring foreign-policy gravitas to the Romney ticket. While Romney can claim executive experience in both government (as the former governor of Massachusetts) and the private sector (as head of Bain Capital), he lacks foreign-policy experience. Bringing in a national-security heavyweight like Rice would be viewed as a major plus.
However, this strength is also a weakness. Rice inevitably would remind voters of the long-fought and expensive Iraq war. She also is known to have more moderate views on social issues than the far-right bloc of the GOP. Romney already is viewed suspiciously by social conservatives; partnering with a social moderate might assuage independents but would not excite Santorum supporters.
Despite the risks, selecting Rice as VP would allow Romney to put a woman on the ticket without inviting comparison to Sarah Palin. Rice is a well-known and well-regarded public figure.
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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