Well, all the speculation ends; and now the campaign begins in earnest. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is the vice presidential running mate of Mitt Romney. To me, it was a surprise pick and a gamble that has some upsides and downsides. Let’s take a look:
The Good – The choice of Ryan completely focuses the race on the economy. Whether or not you agree with Ryan’s budget ideas, the budget is his area of expertise and has earned him some notoriety. The debate will be about the economy, the economy and the economy. Focusing on that is really the only way the Romney-Ryan ticket can win. This race isn’t going to be about foreign affairs (unless there is a sudden crisis); and this race isn’t going to be about gay marriage, abortion, or Romney’s tax returns.
The Bad – A lot of Ryan’s budget expertise is not material that translates well into television sound bites or bumper stickers. When you start talking about actuarial projections of life spans and entitlement payout estimates to retirees in the fiscal year 2035, people’s eyes can glaze over. The Republicans need to come up with a line that sums up their positions and is memorable. In 1980 Ronald Reagan won, in large part, by asking people a simple question: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Romney-Ryan needs a memorable slogan. “America’s Comeback Team” sounds good while the Olympics are in progress, but I think the Romney-Ryan team needs something stronger going into the fall campaign.
The Ugly – The biggest gamble about picking Paul Ryan is the potential impact on the Electoral College map. Right now the latest Real Clear Politics estimate gives President Obama 237 Electoral votes and Governor Romney 191. The remaining 110 are listed as toss-ups. A candidate needs 270 votes to win the White House. Ryan will have strong appeal in the toss-up Midwest states of Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio. Assuming they carry all three, the Republicans' Electoral College total bumps up to 235. Add Florida (29) and Nevada (6), and the GOP gets to the magic 270. It’s a tough road ahead.
Why Not Marco Rubio? – All candidates do internal polling, and I suspect that sunk Rubio. He probably could have helped Romney carry Florida, but that may have been it. While Rubio, a Cuban-American, polled well among his own Hispanic voting block, there was scant evidence that he might pull in enough Hispanics of Mexican decent in places such as New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. In fact, New Mexico is looking strong for Obama-Biden, while Nevada and Colorado are too close to call based on the latest polls. (By the way, about six weeks ago, I predicted Rubio would get the VP nod; I was wrong! A lot of my politico colleagues don’t readily admit their mistakes, but I want this weekly column to be on the level with its readers.)
Why Not Rob Portman? – Ohio Senator Rob Portman had a problem similar to Rubio's. Yes, he could help the ticket win his home state; but he showed insignificant voter appeal elsewhere. Plus, Portman was President George W. Bush’s Budget Director for a time. The strong link to the second Bush administration and its economic policies would have made Portman a potential piñata for Democrats.
The Gamble – Three weeks ago, a CBS News poll put Romney in the lead nationally by one percentage point. This past week, Obama was back up by seven points according to the latest ABC News poll. More troubling for Romney is that Obama leads the polls in ten out of twelve battleground states, though some of the margins are close. This probably explains why Romney took a gamble on Ryan. In short, Ryan helps him in the greatest number of states.
The VP Map – The last time a vice presidential running mate helped decide the outcome of a presidential campaign was 1960, when Lyndon Johnson helped carry Texas and a few other Southern states. Without them, John Kennedy would have lost. So, Paul Ryan has a tall order ahead of him. He must bring a number of states to the GOP ticket, including his home state of Wisconsin.
The History – Republicans who are despairing over the latest poll numbers might take heart in knowing that the 1980 presidential race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan did not turn to Reagan’s favor until mid-September. The 1980 and 2012 races have many parallels, including the dire state of the economy. With a roll of the dice, this year’s race is still very much up for grabs.
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