Sometime in mid-August Mitt Romney will announce his vice-presidential choice. Because it is a decision that will garner more than a little publicity, it is one of few planned campaign events, along with his convention speech and perhaps the first debate, that provides the potential to swing a few of the undecideds into his camp. The smart money right now is on Ohio Senator Rob Portman, followed by former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Florida Senator Marco Rubio rounding out the top tier. The fiscal conservatives in the Republican base, meanwhile, are pushing for Representative Paul Ryan. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte’s name has also surfaced recently, as has New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez, fueled in party by Ann Romney’s statement that a woman was in the running.
Look, I understand the logic for choosing any of these individuals. Portman makes the most sense, of course – executive experience, knows Washington, DC and particularly budget politics and, of course, represents Ohio, which is perhaps the most important swing state in the election. Pawlenty has strong support among evangelicals and has already been vetted by virtue of nearly being named McCain’s running mate in 2008. Rubio has ethnic appeal in another important swing state.
But really – do these names excite you? I mean Tim Pawlenty? There’s a reason Michelle Bachman crushed him in the Ames Straw poll! If we assume that by virtue of the economic fundamentals that President Obama’s natural support tops out at about 48% of the popular vote right now, this election is up for the taking – assuming the Mittster can win over a good chunk of those who are willing to vote for change, but need to be convinced that he’s the guy who can bring it. What better way than by rejecting conventional wisdom in choosing your running mate?
Mitt should think big – and choose Condi Rice. Wait – before you label me “Matt Drudge”, hear me out. Yes, I know her view on abortion doesn’t comport with Mitt’s most recent one. But the bottom line is: which candidate is most likely to swing those undecideds into Mitt’s column? I say it’s Condi. As evidence, consider these recent PPP polls in Pennsylvania and Michigan. (These are automated polls conducted by telephone.) In both states, PPP has Obama leading by comfortable margins; in Michigan, he leads Romney by 14 points, 53-39 (margin of error +/-4.1%), and in Pennsylvania by 6 points, 49-43 (m.o.e. +/-3.6%). These results are almost unchanged from those in PPP polling a month ago.
A sizeable gender gap is a big reason for Obama’s lead in both states; women support him over Romney 59%-33% in Michigan and 54%-37% in Pennsylvania. But what happens if you put Condi on the ticket? According to PPP, which polled a number of different VP possibilities in both states, Rice would boost Romney by 6 points in Michigan and in Pennsylvania. That would move Mitt into a tie in the Keystone state and at least make Michigan more competitive.
None of the other three VP candidates – Portman, Pawlenty or Jindal – that PPP polled in these states had nearly the same impact. Indeed, Romney loses 1-2% in Michigan with any of those three as his VP. All three have higher negatives than positives there. In contrast, Condi is viewed favorably by 56%, unfavorably by only 28%, and Romney runs about 5-6% stronger among women with her on the ticket than with any of the other three. The same is true among independents; Romney gains 2% among this group with Condi as his VP, but loses support if he chooses from the others. She even boosts Mitt’s support among African-Americans by 5% (from 3% to 8%) and by a whopping 26% among the 18-29 year-old voting group. Condi is hip!
In Pennsylvania it is a similar story. Condi has huge favorability numbers (60%) and she’s the only VP candidate that boosts Mitt’s numbers against the President. Although the gender payoff among women with Rice on the ticket is only marginally better, she gains Mitt 15% among independents, giving him a 46-38% lead among this group. She’s even viewed favorably by Democrats in Pennsylvania (47%-38%) and in Michigan (41%-40%).
These results come on the heels of a Fox News poll released a week ago that showed Condi as the clear frontrunner among respondents for the VP slot, with 30% preferring her on the ticket compared to only 12% supporting Rubio, who came in second. Among women, she was easily the top choice, backed by 33%. In that poll, Obama led Romney overall by 45%-41%. But with Rice on the ticket, Romney pulled even with the President, at 46% a piece. She boosts his support among independents by 6% and among women by 5%.
Can you say “game changer”?
But wait. Before you buy your “Rice is Nice” t-shirt and “I’m Randy for Condi” coffee mug, keep in mind that these are hypothetical matchups. Much of Rice’s polling advantage in the PPP polls is likely rooted in her much higher name recognition compared to the lesser-known trio of men. And in the heat of a campaign, when opposition research will remind voters of her record in the Bush administration and those unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, those favorability numbers are sure to drop. It is also true that many Republican conservatives aren’t enamored of her. As I noted, she’s mildly pro-choice. She also supports affirmative action in some cases.
In assessing a Mitt-Condi ticket, however, the alternative is not some ideal vice president – it’s one of these other individuals, all of whom have their own liabilities. And some of Condi’s weaknesses – particularly her somewhat moderate social views – will actually play well in the general electorate. I’m not one who thinks Mitt needs to shore up his base – I think he needs to win over the undecided moderates. In theory, Condi can do this. It is true she’s never run for office so we can’t be sure how she will do on the stump. Reportedly in small-group settings she routinely wows her audience – a good sign for the fundraising circuit.
In previous posts I’ve cautioned that the vice presidential choice rarely has an impact on the general election, and I stand by that generalization. But as I’ve noted before, in a close election, even a marginal impact can be the difference between winning and losing.
Yes, I know she has said she won’t run. But would she really turn down a direct request to serve her country? I don’t think so.
Condi. She’s got southern roots, Washington, DC experience, foreign policy expertise and she plays a mean piano too. I can see her now, surrounded by foreign dignitaries in the White House, belting out the theme from “Evita”.
Quite the prodigy, wasn’t she?
Condi for Vice President. What’s not to like?
P.S. The Miller Center has a nice piece discussing whether the VP choice will make a difference.