In choosing a running mate, Mitt Romney has so many different ways to go that it could be seen as an embarrassment of riches. Emphasis on embarrassment: One reason so many choices suggest themselves is that Romney is a weak enough candidate that a couple of dozen different people could each add luster to his campaign even if they have political weaknesses of their own. Be that as it may, and with the caveat that my lengthy (seven-column series) advice on V-P choices hasn't exactly been followed in the past, it's time for conservatives to start weighing in to let Romney's team know who would be an acceptable choice.
Herewith, then, the first of another multi-part series analyzing the potential choices. Please understand: I am not, repeat not, and again repeat not, suggesting that I think Romney's selection ought to come from today's column. Instead, we'll leave for another column all the obvious RubioRyanChristiePortmanSantorumRice contenders, and start today with some long shots who should be on Romney's radar screen if only because he needs to think with the creativity some of these choices would represent. There is plenty of time not only to vet candidates, but to run under-the-radar polling and focus-group testing of potential choices -- and to a far better job preparing the eventual choice for the spotlight than the McCain campaign did four years ago with an admirably spunky but blind-sided Sarah Palin. Anyway, without further ado, meet the long shots:
U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N. Car.) -- With what groups is Romney politically weak? First, cultural conservatives, who now are supporting him but without anywhere near the enthusiasm needed from this group that often provides a wonderfully outsized percentage of important campaign volunteers. Second, working-class middle-income earners. Third, swing voters in border states. Fourth, he's been worrisomely weak in polling matchups against Barack Obama in North Carolina, with a nice haul of 15 electoral votes at stake. In some ways, what's at stake is the sizeable swath of Americans who in 1992 supported Ross Perot. Well, Shuler could help in all these areas, and he would certainly excite all the people who yearn for bipartisanship. He's solid on cultural-conservative issues across the board, from abortion to guns to faith in the public square; he voted against TARP and against Obamacare and against the stimulus bill.
On the other hand, those high-profile votes obscure the fact that he's really no conservative. His American Conservative Union lifetime score is only 29 percent; and the National Journal gives him a composite liberal score of 55 against a composite conservative score of 45.
Former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-Al.) -- Davis' voting record, while not far left, was clearly left of center pretty much across the board; and while Romney has promised his running mate will be firmly pro-life, Davis' record on that front is in the "legal-but-restricted" camp: several National Right-to-Life ratings of 50 and a few more as low as 20. (He has supported banning partial birth abortions, the original Stupak Amendment, and parental consent, among other restrictions on abortion.) On the other hand, he has moved steadily rightward both in his final years in Congress and especially as a somewhat frequent essayist now for National Review Online, where he has taken strong stands in favor of voter-ID laws and been remarkably complimentary of Rick Santorum. (He was the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus, by the way, to vote against Obamacare.) Having watched his whole political career closely from my perch just south of his Alabama former congressional district, and having spoken and corresponded with him a great deal, I feel confident his right-of-center leanings are genuine.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.Car.) -- Burr, a solid if unspectacular senator, punches all the right conservative buttons without offering any sharp edges or major attack points for the left. He would be a perfectly safe choice who would presumably nail down North Carolina and probably sell well in Florida and Virginia as well, while not turning anybody off.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) -- Talk about energizing the social right! Ashcroft, a long-proven campaigner whose only loss in decades in Missouri came in a very close race in a sympathy vote for his opponent killed in a plane crash (and thus effectively for the opponent's widow), presumably nails down a state that remains a tough battleground, presumably helps throughout the Mississippi Valley, and has impressive, presidential-level stature. Plus, the false media caricature of him has seriously mellowed in recent years, especially when the story emerged of how he acted so heroically, from deep pain in a hospital bed, in standing up for civil liberties in a now-legendary confrontation.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) -- A congressional veteran who enjoys unusually strong respect from the media for his focus on human rights and for his integrity, Wolf is a 100% pro-lifer with a lifetime A- rating from the National Rifle Association, and would provide a tremendous boost in key battleground areas of northern Virginia. He's not as strongly fiscal conservative as many would like; but he has a lifetime ACU rating of 81 and a National Journal conservative composite rating of 73, along with a long record of annual 100 percent ratings from the small businesses of the National Federation for Independent Business. Plus, he has great credibility as a fierce critic of Eric Holder and his minions at the Justice Department, in case Romney wants to thrill conservatives by making Holderite lawlessness a big issue in the fall campaign. Plus, at 73 (a very vigorous 73), he presumably would not be seen as a future presidential contestant, so choosing him would not disappoint backers of other potential contenders and thus not risk subterranean rivalries that sometimes hinder presidential campaigns.
Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace (R-Va.) -- A very good man, a conservative Catholic, and a Virginian. Probably tied too closely (whether fairly or not) to the ineffective pre-surge American effort in Iraq.
Former business executive Carly Fiorina (R-Cal.) -- Granted, she bombed in a very difficult Senate race in California, although she had seemed to be making a good run of it until gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman imploded, dragging Fiorina down with her. Mostly a social conservative, Fiorina, a breast-cancer survivor, could help bridge the "gender gap" that the establishment media says plagues Republicans.
Former State Department official Liz Cheney (R-Va.) -- You want smart? You want conservative? You want tough? You want very well-spoken? You want a woman? You want somebody with a very quick wit? You want to drive the establishment media absolutely, head-exploding bonkers? For that last reason along, choosing Liz Cheney might be the most viscerally exciting choice Mitt Romney could possibly conjure up.
So… there. Call this the "crazy eight" of the Veep list. Coming soon in this space, the more likely contenders – although for sheer political chutzpah with seriously significant, if highly risky, upside, nothing can top my Crazy Eight.