January 16, 2012 the big state strategy
I’m not sure it makes sense to pick a VP candidate to pick up a state. But assuming it does, which state should the Republican nominee be interested in?
Conventional wisdom seems to be: look for a big swing state, like Ohio and Florida.
Problem with conventional wisdom: many of these swing states aren’t really swing states. That is, some are just more Republican or Democratic enough than the nation as a whole that they aren’t quite swing states.
For example, Florida has recently (2000 notwithstanding) been a little bit more Republican than the nation. In 2008 John McCain got 45.6% nationally and 48.1% in Florida, 2.5 points ahead of his national showing. That means, other factors being equal, that if the election had been 50-50 nationally, McCain would have won Florida handily (with 52.5%). Assuming that President Obama is no stronger in Florida (relative to his national showing) there is no point in either party investing resources in Florida. If Florida is close, the Republicans have already lost- and if the nation as a whole is close, the Republicans have Florida in the bag.
Ohio is more tempting. McCain ran 1.2 points ahead of his national showing in Ohio, so Ohio is a little more of a swing state than Florida. Still, I think the ideal state to pick a VP from is one that (a) is closer to the national result than even Ohio, and/or (b) is one in which the Republicans ran a little behind their national showing in 2008, so a VP from that state might give the Republicans the margin of victory- in other words, a state where McCain ran 0-1 points behind his national showing. Does such a state exist?
Good news: yes. Bad news: its not a particularly big state. In Colorado, McCain got 44.7%, 0.9% below his national showing. So in a 50-50 election, a Colorado Republican could swing just enough votes to give Romney Colorado. Today, Colorado’s governor and senators are all Democrats. The strongest Colorado Republican, former Gov. Bill Owens, served from 1999 to 2007, and seems to have been reasonably popular. Owens is only 62, still young enough for national office. On the other hand, Rick Perry’s campaign teaches us that even a longtime governor might not be competent to discuss national issues.
There are a couple of other states where McCain ran 1-2 points behind his national showing: Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.
Iowa’s Republican senator, Chuck Grassley, is 79, probably too old. But Gov. Terry Branstad is only 65, and was popular enough to be returned to office after taking 12 years off from politics. His only downside is the same as Owens’s, lack of national experience.
Minnesota’s former governor, Tim Pawlenty, has of course had plenty of exposure to national politics. But he barely was reelected in 2006, which suggests he will not bring any Minnesota votes outside his immediate (and maybe extended) family.
Pennsylvania’s former governor, Tom Ridge, certainly has national political experience, as both a Congressman and Secretary of Homeland Security. But he is a supporter of legal abortion and thus may be too moderate for Romney, who has spent years trying to become more credible as a social conservative. Gov. Corbett seems popular, but (as we learned with Sarah Palin and Spiro Agnew) a candidate who has held statewide office for less than two years will make all kinds of mistakes as a national candidate, and quite possibly will violate the “lose no votes” principle. Sen. Pat Toomey has held significant office (in the U.S. House) before running for the Senate- but he was elected to the Senate by a very narrow margin in a heavily Republican year and thus probably doesn’t bring any additional votes in the state.
New Hampshire has one strong possibility: Sen. Judd Gregg, who retired in 2010. Gregg is pretty popular in New Hampshire, and thus might make a real difference in that state. Downside: New Hampshire is smaller than any of the states mentioned so far.
(New Hampshire also has a newly elected senator, Kelly Ayotte, but like Corbett is simply too inexperienced for be a VP candidate in my opinion.)