I’m not saying Rick Santorum is the best choice for vice president (although polls should be taken, in order to find out). But it defies all logic for Mitt Romney to fail to strongly consider Santorum. Think about it: When, in modern political history, has the strong runner-up in a presidential primary season failed to be at least on the short list for veep (other than in a case where the party already had an incumbent, as with Jimmy Carter in 1980)?
The only two times I can think of in which a strong runner-up was not short-listed were by Mondale in 1984 and Dukakis in 1988 — both resulting in huge losses.
But that’s just history. Why should Romney give Santorum a serious look? Well, this is reading between the lines in a number of polls and in anecdotal evidence — plus, judging from reader mail I get — but…. it seems to me that there are still large numbers of would-be-right-leaning voters who will not vote for Obama but who are still very large risks to stay home out of disgust at both parties. The political class, all wrapped up in the importance of this election, doesn’t seem to comprehend the “pox on both houses” mentality, but it is real, and it is significant. A lot of these would-be voters ted to vote based on factors of cultural identity or, rather, cultural/attitudinal consanguinity. Mitt Romney, the silver-spoon money manager, who also practices a religion they think is suspect (this isn’t religious bigotry: they might still vote for him, but it just makes him seem even less “like” them and thus less to get enthusiastic about), is hardly somebody to make them take the time to go to the polls — especially if they live in hard-scrabble rural areas, such as the Blue Ridge in Virginia or the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. Indeed, I venture to guess that it is not in the Virginia suburbs of DC where that state will be won or lost, but in the turnout rates in the western half of Virginia.
Likewise, in all those rural areas of Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota where Rick Santorum did well, Romney is noticeably weak. He also, of course, has done a less than stellar job enthusing blue collar workers, especially in the Rust Belt.
Of course, these are areas where Santorum shines. He also enthuses the greatest turnout machine known on the right, namely Christian/Evangelical conservatives. Politicos just don’t understand that Evangelicals swing widely between full participation in elections and bored non-participation. But they do. Yes, they’ll vote more heavily this time if only to stop Obama, but for a lot of them, even that won’t be motivation enough. A lot of people need somebody to vote for, not just a cause to oppose.
Moreover, my observation is that cultural-identiy voters are more ikely than, say, suburban professional “soccer moms” to change voting behavior based on the second half of the ticket. Why? Because what they are looking for — in deciding not WHOM to vote for, but WHETHER to vote at all — are cues (and clues) that somebody on the ticket “gets” them, understands them, cares about them. Soccer moms, on the other hand, are all about the financial standing of their families. In a booming economy, they will vote more on cultural concerns such as abortion, Clintonian small-ball like school crossing guards, and the like. But in troubled economic times, they will look to the top of the ticket and make decisions based almost entirely on the economy. They don’t need cultural cues about whom to vote for, nor do they threaten not to vote if unenamored of both presidential candidates, nor do they care as much about who the running mate is. Instead, if they see better economic times coming with one candidate but not with another, they will vote for that above all else.
Even if the supposition is correct (which it might not be) that Rick Santorum isn’t strong among this class of “swing voter,” that won’t make much difference. They are Romney’s to win or lose based on Romney’s own appeal, not based on the choice of running mate. But blue-collar and rural voters — especially lower-mid income workers — really don’t trust either side when it comes to economics. They want attitudinal solidarity, or they won’t vote at all.
Polls in the weeks after Santorum dropped out of the race showed him to have remarkably high positive-to-negative ratings among Republicans overall; and among the broader electorate, it seemed clear to most observers that he was respected for genuineness even where he was disagreed with on some social issues. Among the borader electorate, Rick Santorum was seen as a well-meaning striver, an overachiever, a loving family man, and a smart and principled guy even among those who don’t like his conservatism. And soccer moms aren’t going to be really turned off, in bad economic times, by a Veep candidate who dotes so much on his wife and family.
So the upside of choosing Santorum is far greater than any perceptable downside. He’s been vetted in public; there aren’t any secrets to hurt the ticket; and he is a proven debater (all but one debate performances were good) and incredibly energetic campaigner.
If Romney doesn’t give a nod to Santorum’s millions of supporters nationwide, it’s like giving them the extended middle finger. Romney’s camp really, really, really ought to do polling in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado to see if a Romney-Santorum ticket would fare better than a plain Romney-unknown ticket. I’ll bet they would find the polling impressive. If so, Santorum should rise toward the top of the list.
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In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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