Veep Speculation

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I love politics, and so as you can imagine I've been watching my fair share of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News of late. I really dislike most talking heads, I don't like shrill debates, so I generally tune out commentary when there's no news going on, but when we have elections each week and tectonic shifts in voter opinion almost daily, it's tough to tune out the pundits.

With Mitt Romney pulling out of the race this week, John McCain is virtually assured of being the Republican nominee. That is, in my opinion, good news. It's also been over the strident objections of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Dr. Laura, James Dobson, Rick Santorum, and dozens of other 'conservative standard bearers.'

As an 'apunditry' political animal, this is great news from my position. The aforementioned pundits are so far disconnected from the reality of American sentiment, I can think of few better endorsements than Rush Limbaugh's declaration that he would rather vote for Hillary Clinton than John McCain.

Seriously, think about it. If you're disenchanted with the current direction of the country, but not sure you want to embrace the near socialist positions being touted by Hillary and Barack, what could be more comforting than knowing you're sticking it to Rush and Hannity.

So, let's turn our attention to Vice Presidential speculation. I think the answer to this question should be much more than a knee-jerk reaction of picking Mike Huckabee.

John McCain's voting bloc Strengths: Foreign Policy voters, moderate voters, experience voters, moderate immigration approach appeals to hispanics, moderate approach to environment, fiscal conservatives on expenditures, and mavericks.

John McCain's Weaknesses: Trouble with conservative base, abortion voters, marriage voters, anti-immigration voters, is not a 'regional' candidate, strength is in traditionally democratic states. He's also old.

Path to victory: Remember that the General Election is won via the electoral college. Unless there is a dynamic realignment in voting trends, McCain must win almost all of the states that Bush won in 2004 and 2000. McCain's strength in independents could also be his biggest weakness in the electoral college. It isn't enough to win more votes in traditionally Democratic states, he has to win the states themselves. With the country deeply unhappy with Bush, it is difficult to imagine a Republican shift in the blue states. (The main scenario that comes to mind is if there were a terrorist attack and the country realigned voting priorities.)

Electoral Math In 2000, George W. Bush won by five electoral votes. From Wikipedia, a listing of the closest 12 states, the % margin of victory, and the number of electoral votes in parentheses.

1. Florida, <0.0092%, (25), Bush
2. New Mexico, 0.06%, (5), Gore
3. Wisconsin, 0.22%, (11), Gore
4. Iowa, 0.31%, (7), Gore
5. Oregon, 0.44%, (7), Gore
6. New Hampshire, 1.27%, (4), Bush
7. Minnesota, 2.40%, (10), Gore
8. Missouri, 3.34%, (11), Bush
9. Ohio, 3.51%, (21), Bush
10. Nevada, 3.55%, (4), Bush
11. Tennessee, 3.86%, (11), Bush
12. Pennsylvania, 4.17%, (23), Gore

Four years later, Bush won by 35 electoral votes. Here's a list of the states that were within 5%, their electoral votes, and who won.

1. Wisconsin, Kerry, 0.38%, (10)
2. Iowa, Bush, 0.67%, (7)
3. New Mexico, Bush, 0.79%, (5)
4. New Hampshire, Kerry, 1.37% (4)
5. Ohio, Bush, 2.11%, (20)
6. Pennsylvania, Kerry, 2.50%, (21)
7. Nevada, Bush, 2.59%, (5)
8. Michigan, Kerry, 3.42%, (17)
9. Minnesota, Kerry, 3.48%, (10)
10. Oregon, Kerry, 4.16%, (7)
11. Colorado, Bush, 4.67%, (9)

The states that switched between the elections were: New Mexico (5) and Iowa (7) became red, (Dem 2000, Rep 2004) and New Hampshire (4) became blue (Rep 2000, Dem 2004). Thats +8 to Red in the states voting... and +27 to Red states due to demographic shifts (the Electoral College was redistributed following the 2000 census.)

If we use 2004 as a template, John McCain can lose 34 electoral votes and still win the White House. McCain's challenge of course is to somehow manage to limit the damage of the last four years to only 34 electors.

Let's hypothesize that all else equal, the national electorate has uniformly shifted 4% to the Democrats, how would that affect final math? Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio, and Nevada all become blue states, that's 37 electors, resulting in another alarmingly close election like 2000, but the Democrats come out on top by three or four votes, rather than the Republicans.

The 'road map' for McCain thus becomes a little clearer. He must limit the national shift to about 4% (no easy task considering the harm Bush has done to Republican sentiment), and he must win at least one of the states that is now 'in play' for the Democrats, while retaining the rest of Bush's 2004 wins (again, easier said than done).

Traditionally, when a Candidate needs to shore up voters in a region or a state, the easiest method is to select a native son from that state as your running mate. With Ohio being the largest 'prize' of the four, you might expect McCain to pick the most popular Ohio Republican and be done with it, but that's an inherently defensive move.

Rather than focusing on not losing a state, McCain should try to focus on winning a new state. If he could capture a large Democratic state, it changes the math significantly. What if there were a state with 21 electoral votes that had been close 4 years ago. If McCain could somehow steal that state, he would still win, even without retaining any of the four '4%' states.

The state is, of course, Pennsylvania. PA was one of the three hotly contested 'swing states' in 2004 (Florida and Ohio, the others), and the only one that went blue in 2004. Would a Pennsylvanian VP be able to stem the tide for McCain? I have no idea... but I'd venture to guess it might. Who would this person be? Surely not elderly Arlen Specter (one of the few Republican Senators more disliked by his own party than McCain), and probably not Rick Santorum (a conservative's conservative who has been quite vocal about his disdain for McCain). The name that comes to my mind is former Governor and Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge. To my understanding, he's well liked in Pennsylvania, and despite efforts in the national media to smear his reputation, I think he's still well respected nationally. He also has the gubernatorial experience that the general punditry believes is needed to balance the ticket with Senator McCain. Oh, and he's been a McCain supporter for quite some time.

Although he's probably the best running mate from an electoral college perspective, Ridge provides challenges of his own. Probably the most difficult is that he is pro-choice, and McCain is already dealing with some discontent over the issue. (McCain refuses to speak against fellow Arizonan, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. This angers pro-life advocates because she was a pro-choice justice on the Supreme Court.) This issue alone is enough to open up a McCain Ridge ticket to opposition from the right wing of the party.

Perhaps this opposition is enough to force McCain to pass over Ridge, but I haven't really heard a name out there that makes more sense to me.

Mitt Romney: McCain and Romney just don't like each other. I don't think McCain would go for it, but it would appease the pundits and probably secure the Republican base. However, it fails to do much on the electoral map. The Republicans won't win Massachusetts or Michigan, they will win Utah. The only state I really see it affecting might be Nevada.

Mike Huckabee: Huckabee's a nice guy. He's a governor (like Ridge and Romney), he's even a Christian... but if you're looking for a southern conservative Christian governor, you could pick one a lot less likely to be repugnant to independent voters. Huckabee really sealed his own fate when he said he wanted to change the constitution to mimic the Bible. This kind of statement scares a lot of people... myself included.

Condoleezza Rice: She's female and black, the perfect response to a ticket that will likely include Hillary and/or Barack. That's also about the extent of her appeal, I think. Yes, I like her a lot, but her expertise is in foreign policy, which McCain has covered. I expect McCain might ask her to stay as Secretary of State... but just because she's a black woman doesn't seem like a good enough reason to put her on the ticket... and McCain would have to come up with a really compelling reason why she would be the right #2 so as to avoid generating a backlash from people who will claim she's only on the ticket because of those two reasons. Colin Powell also fits into this same argument.

Charlie Crist the governor of Florida is a logical choice for the same reason that Tom Ridge is. He's a Republican governor of a swing state. The problem is that Crist has only been Governor for a year, and was Attorney General of Florida for four years before that. The better choice would be Jeb Bush, the two-term Republican Governor of Florida... Jeb's only problem is that his last name is Bush. Putting his name on the ticket would be like dangling a red cape in front of a Democratic bull... just as repugnant as a Clinton on the ticket for Democrats. I myself am tired of Bushes and Clintons.

Elizabeth Dole: Senator Dole's name has come up a few times. She's got quite the resume. She's female, and she would bring the Republican base with her, while not inciting much reaction from the Democrats... or the national electorate. Lizzy Dole is a safe choice, but electorally she brings nothing to the ticket... and she's a Dole. Again, I'm tired of all the family politics in this country.

J.C. Watts: The former Oklahoma congressman might make the ticket. He seems to have a lot of strengths that would compliment McCain. For one, he's a southern baptist minister, but not defined by the term, as Huckabee is. Watts is also a fiscal conservative that scores high marks among the party base. He's also black... and therein lies the problem. He's the only elected black republican with any kind of national stature, and thus his name comes up. He was a four term congressman, but he's otherwise undistinguished. Putting him on the ticket would seem to underscore the Republicans' lack of diversity, rather than emphasizing it. Like Condi Rice, McCain would need a very compelling reason to put him on the ticket, other than 'because he's black'... and that reason is certainly not found in the electoral math.

Mark Sanford The South Carolina Governor is a popular pick among the party base. In fact, if the decision were made without regard to electoral implications, Sanford might be the pick. He was first elected to the House in 1994. He kept his promise to stay only three terms and left in 2000. He ran for South Carolina Governor in 2002, and won re-election in 2006. In a recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Pat Toomey, the president of the "Club for Greed Growth" wrote:

If there is a governor anywhere in America who has demonstrated a commitment to economic conservatism, it is Mr. Sanford. The mild-mannered former congressman has been willing to wage spending fights even against members of his own party. Facing an inherited $155 million deficit, Mr. Sanford vetoed 106 spending items. When the Republican legislature over-rode all but one of his vetoes, he carried two pigs into the Capitol, one named Pork the other Barrel.

Mr. Sanford also pushed through property and small-business tax cuts. As a member of Congress, Mr. Sanford was a reliable opponent of legislation expanding the size of government, and a supporter of personal accounts for Social Security before it was politically acceptable. He was also a champion of school choice.

This sounds like a guy after McCain's own heart. (McCain is a fierce anti pork-barreller himself.) As a white man from South Carolina, he's certainly not going to contribute anything demographically or electorally, but if he pleases the base, that could go a long way to holding the 4% line for McCain... now all they need is five more electoral votes. Where's that Governor Ridge when you need him?

1 Comment


I like your assessment of the situation, ever thought of political columnist??

Check out this NY Times article, I think it might further your dislike of family dynasty in politics. :)