Speculation about who Mitt Romney will choose as a running-mate intensified over the weekend as a buzz around the unlikely name of Condoleezza Rice proved a welcome distraction from Democratic attacks over his Bain Capital record.
Kelly Ayotte, a Republican senator from New Hampshire who is herself mooted as a possible vice-presidential choice, said on TV that the former secretary of state under George W. Bush would be an excellent choice.
“She’s very qualified. She’s excellent. She’s tested. Yes,” Ms Ayotte told ABC’s This Week.
Peggy Noonan, former speech writer for Ronald Reagan, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Ms Rice would inject energy into the Romney bid.
Ms Rice has dismissed the suggestion – “Not me,” she told ABC recently – but this has failed to end the speculation. Analysts said her name recognition and the fact she has previously been vetted, plus her considerable foreign policy experience, work in her favour. However, Ms Rice’s support for abortion rights would seem to be an obstacle.
Guessing Mr Romney’s running-mate has become a Washington parlour game as speculation mounts that the candidate will soon announce his choice.
Running mates tend to fall in to two broad types, says presidential historian Doug Brinkley of Rice University. The first is the “steady Eddie” who no one can say is unqualified, as exemplified by George W. Bush’s seasoned deputy, Dick Cheney. The second is the “game-changer”, represented by the maverick Sarah Palin in the 2008 election.
In the first category is Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio who reportedly attended six hours of meetings at Mr Romney’s campaign headquarters in Boston last week.
Another is Tim Pawlenty, the unassuming former Minnesota governor, who bowed out of the Republican nomination race early and would appeal to the evangelical Christians who remain wary of Mr Romney’s Mormon religion.
Perhaps the most persistent subject of VP speculation is Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, who could appeal to the Hispanic electorate and help deliver his battleground home state, making him a “game-changer”.
Pat Buchanan, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination twice in the 1990s, said Mr Romney should “roll the dice” with his running-mate.
“Romney is not a risk-taker, but he needs to be,” said Mr Buchanan. “He’s very close to Obama [in the polls] and he needs to pick a person who is going to pick up a couple of points for him in a state that matters,” he said, pointing to Mr Portman in Ohio or Mr Rubio in Florida.
But some analysts question how much the running-mate actually matters. Bill Schneider, a veteran political analyst who has monitored every presidential election since 1964, says the choice is not terribly significant.
“People don’t vote for vice-presidents and I can prove that with two words: Dan Quayle,” Mr Schneider said, referring to President George H.W. Bush’s deputy, who was widely dismissed as incompetent, most notoriously spelling “potato” wrong during a school visit. Mr Bush won anyway.
The vice-presidential pick can sometimes matter a great deal though, as it did in 1960 when John F. Kennedy chose as his running-mate Lyndon B. Johnson, who delivered Texas in the process.
But, as often as not, vice-presidential candidates do not even carry their home states, for example, John Edwards, who was senator for North Carolina before he joined John Kerry on the ticket in 2004.
Even when Democrat Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running-mate in 1984 – the first time a woman was on the ticket – he moved into a statistical tie with Ronald Reagan for only one day. Then he returned to second place, where he remained for the rest of the campaign.
However, there is one area where the choice does make an impact – for what it tells the electorate about the presidential candidate.
“In [John] McCain’s case, it raised all kinds of questions about his judgment and his standards,” Mr Schneider said, alluding to the previous Republican nominee’s choice of Ms Palin, the governor of Alaska who had trouble in a television interview naming any newspapers she read.
Much of the speculation now centres round the question of who would add another dimension to Mr Romney and help him appeal to voting blocs that currently favour President Barack Obama.
Mr Romney’s wife Ann said in a recent interview that her husband was considering a female vice-presidential candidate.
But Steve Hess, who was an adviser to presidents Ford and Carter, said the most important factor is the personal relationship between the chief executive and his deputy.
“The primary consideration is that the person should be somebody Romney is comfortable with,” Mr Hess said. “People say ‘if he chooses a woman, if he chooses a black, if he chooses a Catholic,’ but Romney has got to understand that when he is looking across the table at his vice-president, he is looking at his own mortality.”
Source: The Financial Times Limited