With his sweep of five primaries Tuesday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney continues to consolidate his grip on the Republican presidential nomination, causing media attention to shift to his selection of a running mate. Stanford professors disagreed about just how important Romney’s choice may be come November.
Speculation has recently revolved around Romney picking Condoleezza Rice, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and former University provost, as his running mate. Rice, who served as Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration, received the most support among likely Republican voters in a CNN/ORC International survey released last week.
The survey asked registered Republicans and right-leaning independent voters to choose eight names they would like to see as Romney’s vice president. Rice was the frontrunner with 26 percent of the vote. Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who recently bowed out of the presidential race, came in second with 21 percent. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tied for third at 14 percent.
According to Bill Whalen, a Hoover research fellow, the number one pick in the polls “doesn’t always pan out.”
Rice has repeatedly denied interest in running as vice president. In a March segment of Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” Rice responded to questions about whether she would serve as Romney’s running mate by saying, “How many ways can I say it? Not me.”
A poll released by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute last Thursday put Christie, Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) as the leads for possible Romney running mates.
Whalen agreed that it would be a departure for Rice to seek the vice presidency.
“She leads the good life at Stanford,” Whalen said.
While Whalen said that history indicates running mates “[don’t] mean much in the course of the election,” Jon Krosnick, professor of communication and political science, had a different view about the potential influence of a vice presidential pick.
“It can be terrifically important,” Krosnick said. “Research has shown that the more voters who like the vice president pick, the more likely people are to vote for that candidate.”
According to Krosnick, all other factors being equal, the vice president pick can be the one factor that can push a candidate forward.
“It won’t make a big difference, but it’s very likely to make a difference,” he added.
Whalen and Krosnick agreed that the vice president candidate is frequently chosen to compensate for any weak points in the presidential candidate.
“Romney’s vulnerability lies with women and Hispanics,” Whalen said. “Rice covers those two categories and she also appeals to African American voters.”
According to Krosnick, one factor that was on the minds of voters in the 2008 presidential election was Republican nominee John McCain’s age. As a result, Krosnick said McCain chose Sarah Palin<\p>–<\p>someone who was young enough to compensate for his weak point.
“The second problem McCain had was that he was a Washington insider,” Krosnick added. “Obama was young and an outsider and could claim that he knew how the government worked from the inside, but had not been in too long. McCain needed to get someone who’d been in Washington even less.”
However, Krosnick said the same isn’t true this time around.
“In this case, it’s no problem for Romney to make the claim that he’s a Washington outsider and youthful enough [as compared to Obama],” Krosnick said.
He added that in 2008 the energy was around the historic nature of the election because an African-American was running.
“Now, it’s an interesting question for Republicans to see the value in trying to make history as well,” he said, adding that it might create positive attention if Romney chose a female to be his running mate.
According to Whalen, there are a handful of states that can change the election.
“Romney cannot win without Ohio and Florida, so he might look for a politician who could be a difference between those states,” Whalen said.
Media have pointed to Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rubio as two candidates who may help Romney carry those states.
When asked about other possibilities, Whalen said there is a process to predicting.
“Keep an eye out for who he campaigns with,” he said. “Paul Ryan, Chris Christie. See who shows up with him the next few month, whose finances they look at and who all is asked to hand in papers.”
“If Rice and others make statements about not wanting it, see who keeps the door open,” Whalen added. “You never say you want it but you can say you don’t want it. Everyone’s been a little coy so see who keeps the door open.”
Whalen said that what the public sees and what the campaign sees are two very different things.
“In 1992, Bill Clinton surprised everyone with Al Gore, which reinforced their message,” Whalen said. “In 2000, Bush picked Cheney, which made foreign policy sense for them and played out pretty well.”
According to Krosnick, something that may help Romney make a statement would be to select a running mate who would become a signal for voters to pay attention, similar to McCain’s choice of Palin.
But “at the end of the day, it’s between Romney and Obama,” Whalen said.