As Mitt Romney gets closer to securing the GOP nomination, speculation over who he will choose as his running mate continues to mount. Several names have been tossed into the ring, but the two that pop up most often are Marco Rubio, the spitfire Senator from Florida, and Chris Christie, the pugnacious governor of New Jersey.
In fact, two new polls released this week found both Rubio and Christie at the top. Presidential nominees take into account a combination of factors when selecting a running mate. In a vice-presidential Battle Royale between Rubio and Christie, who would emerge as the victor along these criteria?
Regional Balance: A geographically-balanced ticket is a frequent consideration when selecting a running mate. Mitt Romney hails from Michigan but has spent the past 30+ years in Massachusetts. Christie was born and raised and New Jersey and would therefore bring too much of a Northeast-centric vibe to the ticket. Although Florida is still east coast, it’s in the south.
Ability to Carry Key State: Selecting a candidate in the hopes s/he can lock down a key state doesn’t always necessarily work out. In the past 16 elections, only six presidents have won the home-state of their vice-presidential nominee. However, it is one of several factors to consider, especially given the narrow margin many pundits are predicting for this election. New Jersey’s 14 electoral votes went to Obama in 2008 and the state currently leans in that direction for 2010, but a recent poll shows Chris Christie with strong approval ratings, even amongst Democrats and Independents. However, Florida has 13 more electoral votes than New Jersey and is truly a toss-up. Additionally, Rubio has strong approval ratings in Florida and may have the charisma to carry this very important state for Romney.
Appeal to Independents: Independent voters helped propel Obama to the White House in 2008. However, a report published by centrist Democratic think-tank, Third Way, suggests Obama may be losing ground amongst these swing voters. Marco Rubio did well amongst independent Florida voters, but the latest Quinnipiac poll suggests Christie would fare better with independent voters nationwide.
Appeal to Key Demographics: Romney strongly needs to woo the ladies and court the Latinos if he has any hopes of securing the presidency in 2012. Obama is currently crushing Romney in both these demographics. Selecting a running-mate who can narrow this gap is crucial. Yes, Rubio is Latino, but I still stand by earlier arguments that the son of Cuban immigrants is not likely to appeal to the broad base of Latino voters nationwide. Also, a recent Rasmussen poll suggests Christie would fare better amongst female voters than Rubio.
Targetability: Many argue John McCain’s chances were severely hampered by the media’s portrayal of his VP as unintelligent and wholly unqualified for the position. This factor considers the candidate least likely to hurt Romney’s chances of winning given any potential weaknesses. Christie’s, ahem, rotundity, may make him the butt of many SNL and Conan jokes, but it hasn’t hurt him in his home state. Rubio’s Mormon childhood, on the other hand, may hinder Romney’s efforts to appeal to evangelicals.
And the Winner Is ... Chris Christie
At the end of the day, Romney is somewhat of an uninspiring candidate for many. Some have likened him to the John Kerry of the Republican Party. Although polls suggest Republicans will rally behind the eventual nominee in November, it is important he selects a candidate that will help generate buzz and momentum for his campaign. This helps with getting voter support, fundraising, and forming a nationwide political organization. Chris Christie appears more likely to better generate this momentum and help Romney into the White House in 2012.
Of course, all of this is likely moot given both men have repeatedly indicated they will say “no” if asked. Then again, they may just be playing hard to get.