Our political Quote of the Day on a very political and quotable day comes from University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato and his colleagues Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley on Republican presumptive Presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s picking Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate.
Sabato, Kondik and Skelly’s analysis comes in a special edition of Sabato’s must-read Crystal Ball. And they make a point I’ve also made about Romney’s pick. There is a sense of deja vu:
The favored Republican adjective for Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan is “bold.” The favored adjective for Democrats is “risky.”
The word that historians will choose to describe the selection, though, is anyone’s guess.
Ryan, who the Crystal Ball listed among its final five Veepstakes contenders (from an original 23), is certainly not the safe pick that a Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty would have been. The House Budget Committee chairman is perhaps the leading conservative economic spokesman in the Republican Party, and his now famous (or infamous) budget plan, with its changes to how Medicare is delivered and its multitude of cuts to social programs, became a major lightning rod earlier this cycle. By selecting Ryan, Romney has essentially taken ownership of Ryan’s budget ideas. That’s probably a relief to Republicans, who question Romney’s commitment to the cause, but it also provides openings to Democrats, as the Ryan budget could be a potent political weapon in the fall, and not just at the top of the ticket.
His selection has also heightened the differences between the two party’s tickets; Romney’s actual beliefs on issues might be difficult to nail down, but Ryan’s aren’t. This is a big choice election, at least when it comes to budget and taxation issues. And, frankly, that’s the way it should be: The nation does undoubtedly have questions about the future of its entitlement programs and the size of the national debt. Anything that promotes discussion of those national choices, as opposed to a national fixation on gaffes and attack ads, is welcome.
And here’s the key quote:
In picking Ryan, Romney is, in a way, emulating the vice presidential decision made by the man who beat him for the 2008 GOP nomination: John McCain.
Ryan, like Sarah Palin, is a pick designed not necessarily to appeal to independents or Democrats, but rather to excite the party’s base. Palin’s selection did that for McCain, at least for a time, but her candidacy fizzled after a number of slip-ups, including her now-infamous interview with Katie Couric. Presumably, Ryan won’t make the same sorts of mistakes that Palin made, and it’s helpful to him that he’s much more familiar with the national press, which regards him as an intellectual. (They certainly didn’t feel that way about Palin.) Also, McCain’s base strategy couldn’t succeed in a year when the Republican Party was so damaged, when the economy was collapsing and when Barack Obama was running a historic, exciting candidacy. But a base strategy might work this year because a motivated GOP base, despite its weaknesses with minority voters, might be able to outnumber the Democratic base in this election, much like it did in 2004.
It does not appear that Romney has his base fully behind him. His poll numbers, especially lately, have not been strong. At the moment, Romney is slightly underperforming John McCain’s performance from four years ago. McCain received 45.6% of the national vote and 45.4% in seven key swing states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia) — whereas Romney is scoring just 43.4% nationally and 44.5% in the swing states, according to Saturday’s RealClearPolitics average of polls. There are Republican-leaning voters who still must be brought into the fold, and Romney has two big chances to win them over — through the vice presidential selection, and through his upcoming convention in Tampa at the end of the month.
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York recently reported, “Romney aides believe strongly that this race will play out like the 1980 campaign, in which President Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan for much of the race until Reagan broke through just before the election.” If that is indeed the campaign’s thinking — and that strikes us as more than a little overoptimistic even given the gloomy economic numbers — then it would make sense to pick Ryan with an eye to post-January policymaking as opposed to pre-November politicking.
It’s also possible that after weeks of lousy headlines and mediocre poll numbers, Romney simply decided he needed to make a bigger splash, particularly with the conservative base, than a Pawlenty or Portman would have given him.
Democrats are gleeful about the selection; Jesse Ferguson, the national press secretary of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tweeted on Saturday morning: “Hmm. So this is what xmas morning feels like?” Democrats are trying to nationalize the race for the House by using the Ryan budget against Republican incumbents, nearly all of whom voted for it in April 2011. The Ryan budget was always going to be part of this campaign, but given that its architect is now on the national ticket, it will be harder for other Republicans to downplay that vote.
This is an extensive analysis — go to the link and read it all — but here are a few more chunks:
Ryan is the first member of a major party presidential ticket from Wisconsin, and his selection probably makes the Badger State at least a bit more competitive. For now, the Crystal Ball still sees it leaning to Obama, but this could change and we’ll be watching closely.
In recent years, it’s hard to say that any vice presidential candidate has had much of an impact one way or the other. Yes, Bill Clinton carried running mate Al Gore’s home state of Tennessee in 1992 and 1996, but that probably had as much to do with Clinton as it did Gore: Gore lost the Volunteer State in 2000. The impact other recent running mates had on the race — Jack Kemp, Joe Lieberman, Dick Cheney, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin — appears to be small. The most notable name on that list is Palin, but McCain was probably a loser no matter what, considering the rotten hand dealt him as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
Given that Romney has no hope of winning Massachusetts, it’s possible — perhaps even somewhat likely — that both members of the Republican ticket will lose their respective home states. If the Romney-Ryan ticket loses Massachusetts and Wisconsin yet still captures the White House, it would be only the second ticket since 1824 — the effective beginning of widespread popular voting in presidential elections — to capture the presidency despite a failure to carry both nominees’ home states. The other case was in 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson (New Jersey) and Vice President Thomas Marshall (Indiana) lost in their own back yards while eking out a national victory.
Read it in its entirety.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.