With the Republican National Convention only two weeks away, Mitt Romney might announce his running mate any time soon. Marco Rubio (see picture), Senator from Florida, Tim Pawlenty, former Governor of Minnesota or Ohioan Senator Rob Portman are frequently mentioned names for the second spot on the ticket.
Up until today, it is rather controversial to what extent a Vice Presidential Nominee actually helps a ticket on the way to the presidency. Of course, many factors come into play: if the running mate helps with a specific state, socio-demographic group or helps neutralize a weakness of the top candidate.
In search for the “VP-effect”, New York Times journalist Nate Silver found some rather startling evidence in a recent article. In particular, he explored the impact a Vice Presidential Nominee has on the ticket in the home state of the running mate. He found that historically, a running mate helps by no more than 2% points on the average in his or her home state.
The exact impact a possible running mate has, depends on his approval rating, but according to Silver, even an immensely popular figure will hardly win more than 5% additional support. However, what seems like a very small effect now might play out to be of great importance on Election Day! In one of the crucial swing states, two percentage points can well decide on who gets the electoral votes and in an extreme case even on who wins the presidency. According to the average of polls calculated by realclearpolitics, Barack Obama leads in Florida by only 1.4%. Back in 2008, Barack Obama won the state of North Carolina with a razor-thin margin of 49.9% versus 49.5% for John McCain. The same is true for the state of Indiana, which he won with 49.9% compared to 49% for John McCain.
Silver’s calculations have simple implications for Romneys’ strategy in choosing a VP. Picking someone from a state which is either solid blue or dark red would be a waste of votes. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey for example appears at the top of various VP-shortlists. Even though Christie is quite popular in his state, New Jersey is expected to go for Obama. The other end of the example makes Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. While he is very popular, the state votes traditionally Republican anyway and he won’t gain Romney any additional electoral votes either. This comes down to picking a running mate that is both, popular and coming from a swing state (or a state that leaning only very slightly towards Obama). Qualifying for both criteria are for example, Governor Brian Sandovall of Nevada, Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico or Marco Rubio of Florida. Senator Rob Portman is frequently named, but while he is indeed from the swing state Ohio, he is not that popular there (33% positive ratings vs. 25% negative ratings). Paul Ryan, the favourite candidate of the republican right is from Wisconsin, but he is to such an extent unpopular there, that if picked, he is estimated to loose rather than win additional votes for Romney. The same holds true for Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former presidential candidate Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
While the hunt for electoral votes is sure to make up for a large part of Romneys campaign strategy, this will surely not be the Republican’s only concern in selecting a Vice Presidential Candidate. It remains to be seen, who will make the cut on to the Republican ticket in the end. Because one thing is for sure – the secret will be revealed rather sooner than later!