Sabato's Crystal Ball

Veepwatch: Readers React

Kyle Kondik, Political Analyst, U.Va. Center for Politics April 19th, 2012

John Adams, the Founding Father who served as the nation’s first vice president, had this to say about the No. 2 job: “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

Nowadays, few people — well, few politicians anyway — would agree with the sentiment. The vice presidency is a coveted prize that can serve as a springboard to the presidency, as it did for Adams and others throughout our history.

Last week, we identified 23 Republicans who we think might be selected as likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate. But we knew that there were more names out there, plausible and otherwise, so we asked readers to submit ideas that we did not include in our Veepwatch.

The three submissions we liked the best — the ones we’ll reward with a University of Virginia Center for Politics prize package — are all big-time long shots, but ones worth assessing:

— J.P. Ludvigson was one of a number of readers to suggest South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and he did so at length. Among the pluses, Ludvigson said that being a minority woman would “blunt the gender gap and ‘war on women line’” from Democrats and that her Tea Party ties would act as a “base motivator” and also balance Romney’s  “Northeast elitist image.” Among the negatives, Ludvigson mentioned that Haley isn’t from a swing state and that rumors of affairs (which Haley has vehemently denied) could be a vetting hurdle. We didn’t include Haley on our list because she’s a relatively new governor (elected in 2010) whom the press, and probably the public, would view as Sarah Palin 2.0. That’s a headache that Romney doesn’t need.

— Michael Torrey suggested a bipartisan pick: retiring Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC). Shuler is “on the same page with many conservative Republicans (i.e. illegal immigration, spending, gun control) and has even tried to backdoor [Nancy] Pelosi out of the House minority leader position. His blue-collar background would appeal to conservative Democrats in key states like PA, and the idea of a Republican/Democrat ticket would certainly be exciting.” The concept of a unity ticket is always an interesting one — independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT) was high on John McCain’s Veep list in 2008, and the independent Americans Elect group is attempting to construct one this year — but it’s also a hard thing to imagine. Shuler’s record, while more conservative than many House Democrats, is full of votes he would have to renounce or reinterpret to fit with Romney’s platform. And Shuler, an ex-NFL quarterback, isn’t a national political figure like Lieberman; he’s a little-known member of the House.

— Adam Snoddy named Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. “His strengths include: strong social conservative credentials, Midwestern appeal, military background, the ability to help Romney carry NE-2 (which Obama won in 2008), and his status as one of Romney’s earliest endorsers in the primary. Heineman’s drawbacks include: ‘unexciting’ pick, from a solid GOP state, completely unknown to 99% of the country.” Heineman would be a real dark horse and is a plausible safe pick, but there are others on our list — Sen. Rob Portman (OH), Sen. Bob Corker (TN), ex-MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty — who are more prominent and could potentially bring more to the ticket.

Many readers favored Rep. Allen West, an outspoken Republican from Florida and Sarah Palin’s pick. West does excite conservatives, but he’s also a bomb-thrower. For instance, note his recent statement that “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress are members of the Communist Party (because they are in the Progressive Caucus). West makes Chris Christie look like a shrinking violet, and he would produce daily controversies as a running mate. Swing independents would run away, which means West won’t be chosen.

Other readers mentioned some of Romney’s former competitors in the race for the GOP nomination, such as Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. We didn’t include any of Romney’s former opponents because we think all of them showed major vulnerabilities during the campaign. Many produced cutting soundbites about Romney that Democrats would delight in using to divide the GOP ticket.

Further suggestions included Govs. Mary Fallin (OK), John Kasich (OH), Rick Snyder (MI) and Tom Corbett (PA); Sens. John Hoeven (ND), Scott Brown (MA), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), Olympia Snowe (ME) and Susan Collins (ME); former Comptroller General David Walker; former CIA Director Michael Hayden; and a number of others. The likeliest name on this list of unlikely possibilities is probably Hoeven, but his southern neighbor, John Thune of South Dakota, seems like a more plausible possibility because he’s seen as a rising Republican star.*

Thanks to the many readers who contributed. We’ll all be surprised together when Romney’s choice is announced. For all we know, one of you is right and we are wrong.

Earlier this week, Romney named a longtime aide, Beth Myers, to head up his VP search. The early indications are that Romney won’t make his selection anytime soon, which will give us months to adjust the Veepwatch possibilities. As a matter of due diligence, Myers will assess dozens of names, circling some and putting a big red “X” through most. We would advise those that make her short list to avoid quoting John Adams on the vice presidency during their interviews.

*Correction: This post originally listed Hoeven as a senator from South Dakota — he’s actually from North Dakota.