With Mitt Romney all but assured the Republican nomination, the veepstakes cacophony has begun. The floodgates have opened, with an explosion of pundits, writers, and politicos offering their best guess, list, or criteria for the momentous decision. Even supporters are insisting their voice be heard. On MittRomneyCentral, a grassroots fan site for the presumptive GOP nominee, a college basketball tournament-style bracket has been created allowing supporters to offer their picks for Number Two.
An all-encompassing composite of conventional wisdom suggests that a successful choice embody a laundry list of credentials: He (or she!) need only be Hispanic, reliably conservative, a big name, able to deliver a key swing state, attractive to women, offer an adrenaline boost to the summer campaign, balance the boringness of the candidate atop the ticket without overshadowing him, do no harm to the ticket – and yes, be a competent substitute for governing.
No doubt any combination of these political qualities would strengthen the Republican ticket. Though before one becomes enmeshed in the veepstakes frenzy, some pause should be encouraged. Studies and surveys alike have consistently revealed that vice presidential nominees rarely impact presidential election results, despite the fleeting bounce after the nominee is named. According to a comprehensive 2010 analysis, Evaluating the Impact of Vice Presidential Selection on Voter Choice by noted political scientists Bernard Grofman and Reuben Kline (a worthy read for all political junkies), the “net impact of vice presidential selection is at most 1 percentage point” historically.
In fact, a 2010 Pew Poll revealed that 41% of Americans could not even name the sitting vice president; one wonders whether Joe Biden would see this as a “big deal.” While the poll question surveyed Americans more generally (as opposed to isolating 2008 voters), it is hardly a stretch to presume that if a significant measure of citizens fail to recall Joe Biden two years into the Obama presidency, a sizeable portion of voters would have the same ignorance in the voter’s booth about the party running mates.
For those who suggest choosing a nominee based on delivery of his or her home state, think again. The inimitable George Will dismantled that fallacy aptly in a recent column, detailing how 10 presidential candidates have failed to carry the home state of their vice presidential running mates in the 16 elections since World War II. In other words, selecting Senators Marco Rubio or Rob Portman would hardly secure their battleground home states – Florida and Ohio, respectively. Recall that Vice President Al Gore failed to win his home state of Tennessee in 2000 when he sat atop the Democratic ticket, costing him the White House.
Will and others have further exposed the myopic and misguided belief that selecting a Hispanic running mate will provide a meaningful boost in that demographic’s support for the GOP ticket. This too is nonsense; Hispanics are not homogeneous in their thinking. There is no evidence to suggest that Latinos would collectively be drawn to Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants, or even New Mexico Governor, Susan Martinez a daughter of Mexican immigrants. Will reminded his audience that according to exit polls in Nevada’s recent gubernatorial contest, Hispanic candidate (and now governor) Brian Sandoval, a Republican, won only about a third of the Hispanic vote in 2010.
Commentator Ann Coulter undressed the false premise nicely when she told Sean Hannity on Fox News that “any Hispanic that would vote for our ticket simply because there is a Hispanic on the ticket is never voting for a Republican anyway.” In other words, those who would blindly vote for a Hispanic candidate merely because of their Hispanic background would almost certainly already be conditioned to blindly punch the Democratic ticket.
So, whom should Romney choose?
In an election cycle operating as a referendum on the current administration, Romney should avoid trying to crown a proverbial “game changer” or check the conventional wisdom’s political boxes. He should embrace the tested maxim that above all else, a running mate must not hurt the top of the ticket. This is underlined in a cycle in which President Obama’s leadership failures must be put on trial.
Any one of the steady and serious candidates who can comfortably serve a heartbeat away from the presidency will be just fine.