Thomas Marshall, the former governor of Indiana who served as Woodrow Wilson’s vice president from 1913-1921, quipped, “Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again.” His successor to the vice presidency, former Massachusetts governor and future President Calvin Coolidge, reflected, “I enjoyed my time as vice president. It never interfered with my mandatory 11 hours of sleep a day.” Despite two centuries of jokes about the uselessness of the office, the vice presidency is an important training ground for president, and a vice-presidential nominee can be important to a campaign’s electoral success.
Governors make sense on a national ticket for many reasons. Unlike the current occupant of the White House, governors have executive-management experience and are used to real responsibility over large bureaucracies and budgets. Of this nation’s 44 presidents, 20 (46 percent) previously served as state or territorial governors. For the same reason - perceived preparedness for executive responsibility - governors are seen as safe choices for the No. 2 job in an administration. In a campaign, there is the additional necessity to add value that a party’s presidential candidate doesn’t have, whether that is by offering policy depth, personal diversity, esteem with a particular constituency or a geographic spread. Governors have the extra appeal of being sold as Washington outsiders, which is why they are so popular when VP vetting season rolls around - especially in times like these when only 7 percent of voters say Congress is doing a good or excellent job, according to Rasmussen Reports.
As the Romney team bats around ideas for the ideal running mate, there are a number of governors on the short list, and there are a few more who are not in contention but should be. One of the perennial factors is how to win swing states. At the top of this list is Florida. While the national spotlight has been focused on young charismatic freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, the Sunshine State also holds out two impressive executives in current Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush. Mr. Scott was elected after Barack Obama carried his state in 2008 and made his fortune building what is now part of the largest private health-care operation in the world, making him a possible expert critic of Obamacare on the stump. Having a home-state hero announced at the GOP convention in Tampa could provide a boost in numbers and local enthusiasm. This would be in dramatic contrast to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., a state where President Obama is down 3 points and looks like he will lose.
Other Republican governors of swing states that are in the running include Susana Martinez of New Mexico - who has added appeal as a Hispanic woman - Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and John Kasich of Ohio. The Buckeye State also offers Sen. Rob Portman, a former congressman whose impressive curriculum vitae includes service as the U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget. Virginia is up for grabs this year but the Romney campaign should be wary of Gov. Bob McDonnell, who hasn’t done much to counter his state’s big-government Republicanism. If the Old Dominion is still up in the air come November, Mr. Romney is in trouble because although it went for Mr. Obama in 2008, Ole Virginny voted Republican for president in the previous 10 straight elections going back to Richard Nixon in 1968. On top of this, former Gov. George Allen is running to take back the Senate seat he lost in 2006. Mr. Allen is a skilled politician who knows Virginia like the back of his hand and should have coattails to help Mr. Romney get out votes on Election Day.
In the 2012 race, elephants have a rare opportunity to pick up solidly blue states that currently have Republican governors. This group includes Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Michigan’s Rick Snyder and Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett. Mr. Obama won all these places four years ago but is behind or close against Mr. Romney. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s and Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno’s names also have been bandied about.
On the flip side of the partisan divide, some conservative strategists advise that a running mate should be selected from a reliable red state to throw a bone to and reassure the faithful to compensate for the fact that the head of the ticket is from blue Michigan and was governor of blue Massachusetts. This piggybacks on the concern that Republicans need an ideologically solid veep candidate to avoid stirring up nervousness about Mr. Romney’s conservative credibility and to guarantee unity between the party’s conservative and moderate wings. Red-state possibilities include South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Nebraska’s Dave Heineman, Indiana’s Mitch Daniels and Texan Rick Perry, though the latter - despite being a wildly successful governor - is unlikely because the Lone Star State is almost too safe. The Hoosier can be ruled out due to his messy personal life and he was last week named president of Purdue University. Also, Mr. Daniels, who pushed for a “truce” on social issues that social conservatives regard as surrender, would risk alienating a key component of the Republican coalition in a promising year when the base is fired up to unseat a hated left-wing president.
Picking a running mate is one of the most important decisions a presidential candidate will make, and not only for partisan considerations. It’s a weighty call because there’s a decent chance any veep could wind up president. Since John Adams served as the first vice president under George Washington and succeeded the father of our country to become the second president, 30 percent of vice presidents have gone on to become America’s chief executive. As Mitt decides who to tap to be a heartbeat away from the presidency in a potential Romney administration, he can take comfort that the Grand Old Party has a very deep bench of all-star governors from which to choose.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times and coauthor of the book “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery, 2011).
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Brett M. Decker, former Editorial Page Editor for The Washington Times, was an editorial page writer and editor for the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong, Senior Vice President of the Export-Import Bank, Senior Vice President of Pentagon Federal Credit Union, speechwriter to then-House Majority Whip (later Majority Leader) Tom DeLay and reporter and television producer for the legendary Robert ...
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