Who Should Romney Pick For Vice-President?

The Republican strategist and Democratic pollster in their biweekly face-off about Election 2012

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally at Horizontal Wireline Services on July 17, 2012 in Irwin, Pennsylvania.

Penn: Obama’s pick of Biden in 2008 was based on filling a void in foreign policy experience, not to win the state of Delaware. Foreign policy was a major topic of the election, and Biden’s experience serving for several years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee perfectly complemented Obama and made up for what he lacked.

Romney will also try to use his Vice Presidential pick to make up for the voids in his biography rather than in electoral votes.  So far, his greatest weakness has been his inability to connect with middle and working class voters. In a recent CNN poll, Romney wins only 43% of Americans who make under $50,000, 11 points lower than Obama.

Romney will likely pick a running mate who can combat his image of a super-wealthy CEO, and for that, my guess is he will look to Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty grew up as the son of a truck driver in St. Paul, Minnesota. He worked his way through school and was the only child in his family to graduate from college. His story would win Romney greater support among middle and working class Americans.

But while Pawlenty is the smart biographical choice, that is not necessarily the best strategic play. A game-changing candidate such as Marco Rubio or Condoleezza Rice would help re-energize Romney’s tepid campaign. Neither would be a Sarah Palin-like destructive force, and both would help him where he hurts most — Rubio would help Romney win back some of the Hispanic vote and ultimately even the state of Florida. Dr. Rice, on the other hand, would help him with women and perhaps even improve his image in the African American community. A game-changer could work this time around.

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Hughes: The Romney campaign has spent the last several months putting potential running mates through the political equivalent of a colonoscopy:  examining every inch of their lives, from tax returns to business associates to club memberships to public statements. They’ve weighed potential political benefits, public service records and past positions. But at the end of the day, the politics and, most often, the past, can be managed. The threshold question on which the success of any vice presidential pick hinges is whether voters can see that individual as president.

Fortunately, Mitt Romney has a number of choices for whom the answer is emphatically yes. This year’s Republican vice presidential field is a strong one, with many candidates who add value in different ways to the Romney team.

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The media will describe the choice of either Congressman Rob Portman or Governor Tim Pawlenty as “safe,” meaning both ace the “can be seen as President” test. Portman, with whom I served during the Bush administration, is a decent, genuine, all-around great guy who offers a detailed knowledge of the federal budget, good relations with members of Congress and an in-depth understanding of its workings that would be helpful to a Romney administration. Plus, he is popular in his home of Ohio, a key swing state. Pawlenty brings executive governing experience, and a blue collar upbringing that helps him relate to Reagan Democrats and makes him an especially effective surrogate for Romney’s economic message. I saw him speak in person a couple of years ago and was impressed with his ability to relate to the audience and discuss complicated issues in approachable ways.

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Of all the potential picks, Condoleezza Rice brings the most foreign policy experience and a personal star quality to the table — plus, she would help make up for Romney’s current deficit among women voters. She’s never held public office, but having served with her at the White House and State Department and watched her deal with crises and foreign leaders, I know she would be a terrific partner in governing. And Romney has other choices as well: the popular governors of Virginia, Louisiana and New Jersey; members of Congress from Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, one of the Republican Party’s best policy minds. Nobody but Romney and his closest advisors know for sure, but my bet is the choice comes down to Portman or Pawlenty, both Midwesterners with solid records, strong support across the Republican Party and an ability to appeal to independent voters as well.

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