- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Beneath the preening for the Republican presidential nomination at the Conservative Political Action Conference is a fight for the second spot on the ticket, though it’s a battle none of the potential candidates will admit to trying to win.

Most of the likely hopefuls are slated to speak to thousands of activists gathered in suburban Maryland through Saturday, and 17 of them will appear on the CPAC presidential preference straw poll. But in many activists’ minds, most of them are more likely headed to be vice president or land a Cabinet post in a Republican administration than win the big prize.

“Ultimately, in a large field of aspirants, only one can emerge as the nominee, and in that person’s wake are a variety of superstars,” said Charlie Gerow, a board member of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC.

Mr. Gerow said the race for vice president and auditioning for other posts are part of the nomination battle and create delicate balancing tests for candidates.

“I think if you are perceived as running for VP it is a negative,” he said. “You don’t run for VP, but you establish yourself as a proven vote-getter and campaigner, and that makes you attractive as a VP candidate.”

The nomination race is shaping up to be one of the most wide-open in modern history, as shown by the number of names on The Washington Times/CPAC straw poll.

SEE ALSO: CPAC/Washington Times straw poll tests 17 GOP presidential candidates

The people are current and former governors, members of Congress and business leaders. There is a neurosurgeon, a reality television star and a former vice presidential candidate. Collectively, they span the conservative spectrum from tea partyers to establishment types, libertarians to military hawks and social conservatives.

The four-day event at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside Washington will feature a series of panels and policy discussions on Obamacare and the use of military force, as well as the conservative split on immigration and the Common Core education standards, which are supported by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush but few of his potential rivals.

Event organizers also are hoping to train and equip activists with the skills they need to be effective foot soldiers for the Republican ticket next year.

This year, as Republicans gear up for the primaries that will be underway by the time the next CPAC rolls around, the focus is on likely candidates, most of whom will address the gathering and hope to leave positive impressions with activists.

That will serve as a backdrop to the CPAC poll, which also will ask respondents to name their second choice for president — possibly providing some indications as to whom conservatives see as veep material.

Behind closed doors, conservative activists say former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both of whom will address CPAC, are likely auditioning for the second spot.

Some also point to Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Mike Pence of Indiana, former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich of Maryland, and swing-state executives John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan as trying out for posts other than the presidency.

Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said that of all the candidates Ms. Fiorina “strikes me as the one who is likeliest to be running not to be the nominee, but to build her standing in the party in order to get a VP nomination or a Cabinet appointment.”

Conventional wisdom says a running mate should balance a ticket ideologically or geographically to strengthen the nominee’s appeal.

Republican Party observers say former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had that in mind in 2012 when he tapped Rep. Paul Ryan, banking on the idea that the Wisconsin Republican’s efforts to reduce spending would resonate with activists who weren’t sold on Mr. Romney’s conservative credentials.

Sen. John McCain was deemed to be going for the same effect when he plucked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin out of obscurity in the runup to the 2008 election.

Looking toward next year, political observers say the vice presidential nomination could be used either to unify the party’s traditional white, older base or to symbolize outreach to women or minorities.

“The Republicans are going to be under a lot of pressure not to have an all-white male ticket, and there’s not a tremendously long list of potential women who could be running mates,” Mr. Kondik said. “Gov. Susana Martinez is often mentioned.”

Mr. Kondik said it is hard to envision tea party favorites Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky or Ben S. Carson as a vice presidential pick.

The same goes for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who built their reputations as stalwart social conservatives, he said.

They “must know that the party establishment would never allow them to become a vice presidential nominee assuming an establishment candidate wins the nomination,” he said.

Some presidential prospects also might end up as Cabinet officials, as Hillary Rodham Clinton did when she lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008 but became his secretary of state.

“There are six or seven second-place medals, not one,” said Grover Norquist, chairman of American for Tax Reform and ACU board member. “A Cabinet position can be supercool, even more than VP.”

That, he said, would be especially true if Republicans take back the presidency and hang on to their majorities in Congress.

“To be secretary of defense or health and human services or veterans affairs, you could really have a list of accomplishment over four to eight years,” he said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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