After Palin fiasco, will Romney risk a woman VP?

For months there's been talk that the GOP candidate might choose a female running mate.

By The Fiscal Times Jul 6, 2012 11:55AM

FTBy Eric Pianin and Maureen Mackey

For months there's been intriguing talk that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney might pick a prominent woman as his running mate to help give his campaign a kick – and layer on some luster to a plain vanilla, hyper-cautious and meticulously run campaign.

Among the potential picks, four women, more than any others, have consistently been mentioned as possibilities in the Republican vice presidential sweepstakes:

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, 44, the former state attorney general and relative political newcomer, who just spent a sweltering July 4 campaigning with Romney.
  • South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 40, a Tea Party favorite and one of Romney's early supporters, who recently ducked ethics violations charges related to campaign lobbying.
  • Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, 52, the first female Hispanic governor in the U.S.,  who could potentially give Romney a boost with a constituency he sorely needs.
  • Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, 57, who served in the Bush administration and would bring the foreign policy bona fides that Romney lacks.

Just this week, Romney's wife, Ann, said that her husband is thinking about picking a woman to be on his ticket this fall. "We've been looking at that and I love that option as well," Ann Romney told CBS News, as he looked on beside her. She said the person selected for the No. 2 spot on the ticket should be "someone that obviously can do the job but will be able to carry through with some of the other responsibilities."

Even so, the combination of Romney's extreme political caution and the curse of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's disastrous performance as the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee have just about ruled out the possibility that any of those women will end up on the Romney ticket this summer, according to a number of political experts and analysts interviewed this week by The Fiscal Times.

"It's very difficult, just one election cycle out, not to compare a female candidate to Sarah Palin," said Jennifer L. Lawless, a political science professor at American University and expert on women in politics.  "So even if you were to identify somebody who was incredibly well credentialed, the likelihood of both voters and the media assessing that woman relative to Sarah Palin would be a liability for Romney."

Chris Ellis, a political scientist at Bucknell University, noted, "Certainly Sarah Palin didn't do potential women vice presidential candidates any favors."

Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor, was even more emphatic: "I think it would be only slightly more likely Romney would choose a woman than he would choose a gay running mate. I just don't see it happening."

Romney needs all the help he can get in attracting women voters. While President Obama currently maintains a single-digit lead over Romney in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll – 51 percent to 44 percent among registered voters – Obama leads the former Massachusetts governor by 19 points among all adults in terms of handling "women's issues," his single largest advantage among a dozen issues surveyed. Obama's 50 percent approval rating overall rests on positive views among 56 percent of women, compared to 43 percent of men.

But regardless of how strong or accomplished the female VP contenders may be, they'll likely suffer from the residual hangover from the debacle of the 2008 campaign, when John McCain plucked Palin from relative obscurity to energize his long-shot bid for the White House. Palin took the Republican national convention in St. Paul by storm and gave the GOP ticket an early shot in the arm. But her mercurial temperament and woeful ignorance of national and international issues soon made her a target of media ridicule and a drag on the McCain campaign – from which it never fully recovered.

Steve Schmidt, a senior strategist with the McCain presidential campaign who was instrumental in recruiting Palin, has been widely quoted as saying that the McCain-Palin ticket was a testament to an inadequate, hasty review of Palin. "The vetting process did not disclose what would become obvious afterward," Schmidt told The Los Angeles Times earlier this year. "We had a person who fundamentally lacked the knowledge and basis – at a very, very deep level – to be a plausible commander in chief."

Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor, said that McCain and Romney "couldn't be more different as human beings in how they approach decisions," and that compared with McCain's seat-of-the-pants approach, Romney's vice presidential vetting process "is microscopic, if not proctoscopic."

"The Palin legacy is that a Republican nominee for president isn't going to pick a woman who has been in high office for a short period of time and is unfamiliar with many of the key issues," Sabato told The Fiscal Times. "Ayotte, Martinez, Haley and others have been in their current positions for exactly the same length of time Palin was. That's a strike against them. It isn't their gender as much as experience that may be holding them back. Romney wants people to look at his VP and say, 'This person is qualified to be president if called upon.' Palin never passed that test. Some women and men being mentioned today may not qualify either."

"I don't think she (Palin) necessarily ruined it for a woman as a choice, but I don't think she made the concept of gambling on a pick a very attractive one," Michael Traugott, a University of Michigan political scientist, told The Fiscal Times. "From what we know of him, I don't think Romney's the gambling type. I would expect him to make a very risk-averse and conservative choice – conservative with a small 'c.'"

That doesn't mean he wouldn't pick a woman, adds Traugott, noting that a woman, Beth Myers, is running the selection process. "But I think the Republican Party's policy positions vis-à-vis women only mean he'd have to select a very conservative woman, and this would just sharpen the contrast between the two campaigns. Since women are such a critical part of the electorate, this would probably work to his disadvantage."

Jennifer Lawless,  director of American University's Women and Politics Institute, said Romney's presumed aversion to picking a woman for the ticket has nothing to do with sexism or bias – and everything to do with the methodical, analytical modus operandi he's followed throughout his political and business careers. "Given his record, his strengths and the fact that he's trying to run a campaign that is about righting the economy and not generating drama, I think the kind of people he's looking at are people with relatively long records in their states, either as governors or senators. And those people with those experiences that mirror his own are men."

This would explain at least partially why the focus has shifted recently to Tim Pawlenty, a former two-term governor of Minnesota, and to Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a veteran lawmaker and one-time head of the White House Office of Management and Budget, who would also presumably help Romney in attracting votes in a key swing state. Others who continue to get serious mention are men as well, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

"Mitt Romney, during his entire career, surrounded himself with men, with the exception of Ann," said Baker, the Rutgers political expert. "Name one prominent woman who was associated with Bain Capital…  I think he's a guy who likes to play it safe, and playing it safe tells me it's going to be someone like Rob Portman or, on the outside, someone like Chris Christie, even. But I think even Christie would be a little edgy as far as Romney was concerned. Edgy is not Romney."

Some insist Romney hasn't completely closed the door to a female VP pick. Ron Bonjean, a Washington political strategist, said he doesn't think McCain's experience with Palin would preclude Romney from choosing a woman if he thought she was the strongest choice. "Every situation is different, depending on the circumstances," he said. "Man or woman, the campaign will likely pick the best candidate to help Romney win."

Michigan's Traugott adds that any discussion of the strengths of various female picks – Condi Rice, Susana Martinez, and  even business executive Carly Fiorina and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who have both been mentioned as outside choices – "would have to be done in the abstract. I don't believe a woman will be selected."

"Assuming we're going to have a very close election, somebody from a battleground state would make the most sense, at the margins – somebody like Rob Portman of Ohio or Marco Rubio of Florida," said Traugott. But overall, "I think Romney will make a safe choice – and that will include picking a man."

Eric Pianin is the Washington Editor at The Fiscal Times. Subscribe to The Fiscal Times' free newsletter.

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Jul 8, 2012 4:09PM

Why are these authors trying to equate all female VP candidates to Palin? She's her own person, and they are theirs. Why should there be any similarity beyond their sex? We don't assume that of male candidates, do we?


In any case, whoever he picks he will certainly pick up a lot of votes just for being "not Obama". I've not seen so much "just not him" fervor since...well since George W. (And Barack doesn't get to run against him again like he did last time.)

Jul 9, 2012 11:44AM
There's a few ladies out there more than qualified for the VP position. Condi's one. Ayotte's another. Martinez is another. Palin's critics tore her apart---made her very wealthy in the process. So she took the beating straight to the bank.  Romney should learn from McCain's mistakes. He needs to get much more aggressive. Rubio is looking like the heads up favorite. In 2008, Hillary Clinton was the heads up favorite and what happened. Most folks and I'm one would have preferred her. Politics is a funny game----you never know, 
Jul 8, 2012 10:23AM
Palin was a complete nincompoop. We all know this so don't try to blame Obama
Jul 8, 2012 1:56PM
Please team up with Palin, Mittster. What an amusing show that would be, the flip-flopper and his brainless Barbie. They'd have plenty of offers from the circus, though, after losing the election.
Jul 11, 2012 12:24PM
The problem is not a woman, it's the ultra conservative haters Palin represents, the intellectually weak, anti-science, anti global warming, anti evolution, anti-intellectual, anti-middle class and anti poor, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-compromise ultra right wing.  The party of no is the party of yes to every destructive idea.  This is the party that brought we Americans to our knees financially.  Now we are asked to elect the Know-Nothings again.  NO WAY!
Jul 10, 2012 3:31PM
What about Olympia Snowe?  She has a lot of experience and has always been a pragmatic law maker.
Jul 15, 2012 10:20AM
Rumor has it that Mitt may run with Mitch least that's from B1lderberg. We'll know soon if they have indeed vetted them to be the R ticket together.

We don't have a true surprise there.

Jul 14, 2012 11:45PM
I thought Susana Martinez is anti-immigration, even though her family is originally from Mexico.
Go figure.

If Latinos know her, or if they do a bit of research, I don't think she would help Mitt.
...although they  sound like a perfect match.

Jul 17, 2012 4:17PM
What Palin fiasco are they refering to? The fiasco that the Lame/Shame street media created?
Jul 9, 2012 1:18PM

One person that has not been mentioned, is David Koch, one of the Koch brothers. They have made billions in the oil industry and are both billionares. Mr.David Koch, has enough money to put into the campaign, that the republicans would have twice the money to spend on campaigning than the Dems. Matter of fact, the Koch brothers are running anti Obama tv ads, as I am typing this message. A Romney, Koch, ticket would result in the one percent being extremely, well represented in the executive branch of the Gov.  

Jul 14, 2012 11:59PM
Michelle Bachmann would be a perfect VP for Mitt....just think of the tax code they could write together to lower Mitt's taxes....and Marcus could be Second Lady in the WH...I think he would love that! They would get the teaparty vote and the millionaire vote - hands down.
Jul 9, 2012 9:28PM

liberal hatchet job


Biden is a complete idiot, Obama chose him and gets a pass


What BS


Liberals suck

Jul 6, 2012 1:59PM
Palin fiasco - It wasn't a Palin Fiasco it was socialist, liberal, pro-Obama news media. Well I was a fool, I voted for Obama. I wanted racism to end in America, and I've calling Obama names ever since. MSNBC and the other liberal news media SOB's will not fool me with their pro-Obama articles this time. Romney may not be what I would like, but at least he is not Obama.
Jul 10, 2012 2:53PM
Sarah Palin was a "fiasco" only in that the establishment didn't intend for the Republicans to have a real chance at winning over the first black candidate.  Then she gave the campaign a little fire and panicked a lot of people who run Washington. 
Jul 9, 2012 7:26PM
Too bad Leona (taxes are for the little people) Helmsley is dead, she would have been a perfect match up for Mitt and the GOP{/TP.
Jul 6, 2012 4:46PM
Oh man those crowds of 50,000 and 60,000 was quite a fiasco, for the libs. That was without McCain.I remember Palin did quite well vs Biden before a record 80,000,000. What planet are you liberal writers from.Palin just spoke at CPAC to 12,000 SRO in four rooms in DC. What a fiasco. If Romney wants to win he better get Palin on his side.
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