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Rolling the Vice Dice

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Romney himself has mentioned Jindal when asked whom he might consider. But he has also mentioned lots of other governors: Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Brian Sandoval of Nevada. Of these, Daniels and Haley seem least likely to get the nod, since their states are sure to wind up in the GOP’s column regardless in November. Christie has appeal as one the party’s media superstars, but would be unlikely to deliver New Jersey and is glaringly unsuited temperamentally to being anyone’s No. 2. And while McDonnell once seemed a strong possibility, his recent foray into the reproductive wars has markedly dimmed his prospects. “Two weeks of stories about his position on transvaginal probes would be absolutely poisonous,” observes a senior Republican strategist.

Two governors certain to get closer looks are Martinez and Sandoval, both of whom hail from swing states Romney must carry and might help remedy his weakness with Latinos. Martinez is seen as an ascendant figure in the party who could also aid Romney with female voters. Yet few national Republican players could pick her out of a lineup, and the specter of Palin will hover over her vetting and would probably shadow her introduction to the country. Sandoval, as a former federal judge, is presumably squeaky clean, but is an out-front moderate who has raised taxes and is pro-choice. And his level of preparedness, like Martinez’s, is an open question. “What do they know? What have they read? Do they have passports?” asks Steve Schmidt, the McCain operative most responsible for (and most chastened by) the Palin pick. “Can you credibly make the case that either of them is ready to be commander-in-chief on day one? That’s the question.”

The same question—among others—could be asked of a third and better-known Hispanic: the freshman senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. Beloved by the base, charismatic, and a gifted communicator, Rubio is often mentioned as a future aspirant to the Oval Office himself. Popular at home, he would help in a critical swing state, and that, together with his Cuban-American heritage, makes him one of two odds-on favorites among many Beltway savants.

But picking Rubio would entail risks, the most obvious being that his youth (he is 40) and inexperience would make it hard to pass Schmidt’s readiness test. Another is that the details of his biography are in dispute and will be subject of dueling books (one by him) this summer. And then there are the questions around his finances, including a history of personal debt and a threatened home foreclosure.* “With that stuff in his background, he would have a hard time getting a top-level security clearance,” says a Republican who knows about such things. “I’m not saying it’s disqualifying, but it raises some red flags.” And, indeed, Rubio is already displaying some reluctance to be vetted.

Which brings us to the other odds-on favorite: Ohio senator Rob Portman. A former congressman, U.S. trade representative, and head of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush, Portman has as firm a grasp of fiscal issues as anyone in Washington. He is solid and stolid, bland and boring, and as egregiously Caucasian as a potful of Uncle Ben’s. But he also won election to the senate in 2010—with 57 percent of the vote and carrying 82 of Ohio’s 88 counties—in what may be the most important battleground state on the map. His snoozy dependability and managerial affect would reinforce Romney’s argument that he and not Obama is capable of fixing what ails the capital and the economy. And, by comparison, Portman’s dishwatery demeanor might actually make Romney look like a bit of a spitfire. (No kidding—Portman really is that dull.)

But the paramount reason Portman would be Romney’s smartest and safest pick is this: He would both be and be immediately universally regarded as qualified for the gig. For all the gaming out of pros and cons of various possible picks, the truth is that the way the selection matters most is as a reflection of the nominee’s judgment. In this, a V.P. choice is one of those rare campaign events where the substantive and strategic imperatives are in alignment. Doing the right thing for country also happens to be the right thing politically.

If Romney has any doubts about that, he should ask Bush or Bill Clinton, whose running mates (whatever else you think of them) instantly cleared the bar of ready-on-day-one-ness and helped the men who chose them win the White House. Or, for a different perspective, Romney could ask McCain—although I’m told the old man doesn’t much enjoy talking about it.


*This article has been corrected to show that Marco Rubio has a history of personal debt and a threatened home foreclosure and has not declared personal bankruptcy or had his home foreclosed upon

E-mail: jheilemann@gmail.com.


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