One thing reasonable political observers on both sides of the partisan divide can agree on is that the 2012 presidential election will not be a replay of the 2008 contest.
If President Barack Obama is re-elected, his win will not resemble the electoral landslide that swept him and his party into the White House. In all likelihood, the finish will resemble George W. Bush’s squeakers.
When deciding on whom he would invite to share the Republican ticket, Mitt Romney doubtlessly considered both electoral geography and capacity to make a strong case for the team.
Most of the potential running mates possessed only one of those important traits. And though the media was treated with a parade of “probables” since Romney shifted political gears from the primary campaign to the general election, the ex-Massachusetts governor chose the only candidate that could perform both tasks.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, New Jersey governor Chris Christie and South Dakota US Senator John Thune’s vice-presidential aspirations were gutted by the reality that their states are already “counted” in one of the candidate’s column.
Jindal and Thune hail from solid Republican states while Christie would have had a tough time moving the Garden State to the GOP even if he were at the top of the ticket.
On the other side of the political ledger, Ohio US Senator Rob Portman and Virginia governor Bob McDonnell are one-trick ponies. While the inclusion of either would have likely locked up his respective state, neither Portman nor McDonnell are considered dynamic figures with broad appeal. Though Romney will need both of their states in November, he also needed more than a clone of himself sharing the stage.
New Hampshire US Senator Kelly Ayotte, the dark horse I predicted, would have helped secure, though by no means guaranteed, her state’s potentially critical four electoral votes but she did not present strongly on news shows, which are quasi-auditions.
It’s one thing to read from a teleprompter or flawlessly deliver a canned stump speech in the controlled setting of a campaign rally before a favorable crowd, it’s quite another thing to spar with hostile journalists rapidly firing questions at you.
After the way Sarah Palin was savaged by the Democrats, media and political hacks in her own party, Romney was understandably gun shy about the prospect of Ayotte being immediately labeled as Palin II.
Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan had a track record of effectively arguing for conservatism while coming from a medium-sized “purple” state.
America’s dairyland has not gone Republican since Ronald Reagan carried it in 1984.
And in the last decade, Wisconsin was Karl Rove’s Moby Dick.
After George W. Bush missed carrying it by less than 6,000 votes in 2000, the Bush operation heavily invested campaign resources there in 2004…and lost it by over 10,000 votes.
Wisconsin wasn’t close in 2008. Obama ran up a 13+ point margin over his Republican opponent, but then again John McCain tanked in many places.
Things are different nationally in 2012, and in the case of Wisconsin what happened there earlier this year could make the difference on the Fall ballot.
While the affirmative vote for Republican Wisconsin governor Scott Walker in June is not directly transferable to the Republican presidential nominee in November, the pro-Walker campaign operation is.
The Romney-Ryan tandem have inherited a massive voter identification network and a statewide grassroots operation that will be useful in the presidential election.
It’s also worth noting that the same voters who gave Obama 51% in Wisconsin’s First District provided Ryan a 100,000 vote margin over his Democratic opponent in 2008.
Walker’s victory in the recall challenge made Ryan a more attractive running mate, combining Ryan’s appeal in his district with the tested campaign machine that kept the Republican governor in office.
Romney bet that the two could be enough to end to the Democrats’ six election winning streak in Wisconsin.
The unions may have gotten far more than they bargained for when they made their play against Governor Walker.