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Web Chat: Choosing the Right Presidential Running Mate

With likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney now shifting the focus of his campaign toward the general election, public interest in his potential running mates has also increased. Who are the leading candidates to join Romney on the Republican ticket? What role have running mates historically played on the campaign trail?

On April 18, Stephen Hess answered your questions on the search for Mitt Romney's running mate during a live web chat moderated by POLITICO.

12:30 Vivyan Tran: Welcome, let's get started!

12:30 Comment From Anne: Now that Romney is close to securing the GOP nomination, how does he go about selecting a running mate?

12:35 Stephen Hess: Mitt Romney has already taken the first step in his selection process by appointing a long-standing adviser, Beth Myers, to head his team. She will undoubtedly start gathering lists of possibilities from his immediate circle and other interested parties. She will prepare a long questionnaire with questions involving finances, health, family and personal matters. She will then gather a team of lawyers and accountants to start assessing this material and over the course of the next month or two the process will be winnowed.

I would have one suggestion that perhaps hasn't been part of the process in the past. This relates to a world full of bits and pieces of video that seem to pop up in our social media world. So I suggest, and it would be a great job for a group of interns, to start finding every available piece of tape on anyone who may be considered a candidate for vice president.

12:36 Comment From Roberto: What impact does a VP ultimately have on an election? Do they have the ability to swing the election one way or another?

12:40 Stephen Hess: Very good question. Obviously choosing a VP is very important. We have had nine presidents "by accident." Virtually 20% of our presidents didn't get elected to that job. However, there is only one election in which the choice of a VP influenced the outcome. That was when JFK picked Johnson in 1960. Johnson's Texas organization stuffed the ballot boxes in the state and JFK/Johnson won the state and the 1960 election. I would suggest the research of my co-author Earl Mazo on this point in our 1968 biography of Nixon.

There is always a good deal of opinion about voting demographics, but the evidence supports that Americans vote for president, not for vice president.

12:40 Comment From Doyle: How important is it for a VP pick to shore up Romney's weaknesses? Seems like Rubio—a young, Latino, Tea Party champion with an inspiring personal narrative— does that more than any of the other picks I've come across.

12:45 Stephen Hess: I think it's very interesting that Mitt Romney is getting the nomination in what has generally been considered a weak field of Republican contenders for president, yet there is a very strong field of candidates for VP. VP selections are usually governors or senators, and there are a number of people who fit in one or the other category (of whom Rubio is one and is possibly a very good selection as you point out—an exciting person with other attributes including his Latino background and state of origin.)

But the main question for Mitt Romney is can he see his choice for VP becoming the Commander-in-Chief if he is incapacitated. And he would have to ask that question about Sen. Rubio who is young and has been on the national scene for only a few years.

The other question that Romney must ask is how comfortable is he with the person he wants as his VP? This question of comfort level is very important and, obviously, I can't answer it in terms of Sen. Rubio or any of the other possibilities.

12:45 Comment From T. Lloyd: Romney's kind of dull. Should he pick someone exciting to give the ticket life, or should he be afraid of being outshone?

12:48 Stephen Hess: I think there is a strong concern among Republican professionals as a result of the so-called "Palin factor." In short, it is better to be dull than overwhelmed. In fact, I suspect that Mr. Romney is going to look for the person with the most appropriate resume in public service, and that doesn't necessarily produce the most exciting campaigner.

12:48 Comment From Kate: Are there any "safe" picks for Romney?

12:51 Stephen Hess: I think the potential candidate with the most perfect resume is Rob Portman. He was a member of the House of Representatives for 14 years and then spent about a year as U.S. trade representative and a year as director of OMB under President George W. Bush, and now has been a U.S. Senator since 2010. There are other people with very good resumes, but probably only Mitch Daniels also has an interesting mix of both legislative and executive experience in Washington.

12:53 Comment From Dan: What groups will Romney be trying to appeal to with his VP pick?

12:54 Stephen Hess: I rather think it will work the other way around. That Romney will pick the person he's most comfortable with and feels would be the most helpful advisor, and then the political pundits will deconstruct and find why that person comes from the right state or has the right demographic history.

12:54 Comment From Jake: Is a pro-choice running mate a non-starter?

12:54 Stephen Hess: Yes.

12:55 Comment From Lewis P: You talk about the Palin factor, but do you really think she hurt the McCain campaign? In retrospect, that just seems like a distraction and another embarrassment from a campaign that was already foundering.

12:56 Stephen Hess: I would agree that McCain would have lost the 2008 election with whomever he chose as his running mate. I do think, however, that Gov. Palin distracted him from focusing on the issues that he felt were most important.

12:56 Comment From Denny Leithman: Is the vice presidency a springboard to the presidency anymore? How often do vice presidents become presidents, historically speaking?

12:59 Stephen Hess: They certainly become their party's nominee for president at a later date—which would include former VP's Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Al Gore, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.

1:00 Comment From G. Santos: How much thought does Romney have to give to the idea that his running mate might have to do a debate with Joe Biden? Is that a factor?

1:02 Stephen Hess: I doubt it, only because of all the names that political experts currently put forward, I think they would be quite adequate to the task. Although obviously a senator or Rep. Paul Ryan would have a better fix on federal government issues than some of the governors who are being considered.

1:02 Vivyan Tran: Thanks for the questions everyone, see you next week!


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