Warming Up For The GOP Veepstakes

One choice that's not necessarily around the corner, but is certainly taking up a lot of time in Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney's camp is the shortlist for potential running mates. That is, of course, IF he wins the nomination. Host Rachel Martin talks with Republican strategist Mark McKinnon about the possible strategies Romney may use.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we've been hearing, there are big choices afoot in the Republican primary. One choice that's not necessarily around the corner, but which is certainly taking up a lot of time in the Romney camp, is the short list for potential running mates - if Romney wins the nomination.

Joining me on the phone is a man who has advised both George W. Bush and John McCain, Mark McKinnon. Welcome to the program.

MARK MCKINNON: Hey, thanks. Glad to be with you.

MARTIN: So, you have been part of the inner circle of a campaign or two, and understand how vital this choice can be. Define the stakes for us?

MCKINNON: Well, it's really vital. There are three opportunities that you have during a general election campaign where you can substantially move the needle of public opinion. One, is your convention speech; two, are the base; three, is the selection of your vice president. So it's a big, big moment, a really important moment and you got to get it right.

MARTIN: The vice president is traditionally has been someone who a campaign is hoping can bring out voters that a candidate might not be capturing on his or her own. An example maybe is how Sarah Palin was supposed to gin up more support for McCain among women voters.

If you were running Team Romney, Mark McKinnon, what sort of vice president would you be looking for?

MCKINNON: Well, the key is balance. I mean, for example, President Obama picked Joe Biden because he was lacking foreign policy experience. So he was a nice balance in that sense. So if you think about what does Mitt Romney need? Well, first of all, by a lot of people - at least in the Republican primary and Republican voters - he's seen as a moderate candidate. So there's going to be a big push for him to balance the ticket with what they would describe as a true conservative. So that's one idea.

Another idea might be that he's vulnerable because he's seen as out of touch with sort of middle American voters - middle-class voters from the heartland of America. So he could balance the ticket by going to somebody from Ohio - like a Rob Portman, for example - or somewhere in the Rust Belt.

MARTIN: Romney has also been struggling in the polls with women and Latino voters. I mean, that can be a problem for him. Who could potentially solve that?

MCKINNON: Well, there's several options, and you're right. He's got a huge deficit with Hispanics. Currently, he's only got about 14 percent among Hispanics and he's got to get that number up to about 40, the way George W. Bush did, in order to win. And so, there'll be a lot of pressure and consideration for an Hispanic V.P. to balance the ticket. And the people most often talked about are Marco Rubio from Florida, Governor Susanna Martinez from New Mexico, and Brian Sandoval from Nevada.

MARTIN: There've been other names kind of floating out there in the ether. Speaking of Florida, Jeb Bush, former governor has been floated; Chris Christie of New Jersey; you mentioned Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, even Paul Ryan. They are - at this point, they're all denying this.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I mean it's kind of predictable, right, in this game? It's just...

MCKINNON: That's part of the dance, you put off the notion of consideration and act humble. But the reality is, at the end of the day, if you've got a call to be V.P. almost everybody says yes.

MARTIN: How does the game play out from here though? When might we start to see some real hints that the Romney campaign, if he is to be the nominee, is homing in on a short list?

MCKINNON: Well, if they do this right, you won't get any hints. And for all we know, the process has already begun. And knowing Romney and knowing recent history, one thing is certain, it's going to be a very deliberative process. And I think it will be very methodical but I don't think the public is going to hear much about it. It should be a pretty lockdown process.

MARTIN: So, as a Republican strategist, as someone who has played this game, I mean I have to ask you. Who at this point do you think you'd be kind of saddling up to, buying a drink...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...doing the courtship dance Who would be a good fit for a Romney GOP presidential nominee?

MCKINNON: Well, you know, Marco Rubio is interesting because he checks so many boxes when you think about what a Republican nominee needs. He brings Florida, he's young, he's Hispanic, the Tea Party likes him. But that said, he's got issues actually surprisingly, ironically with Mexican-American voters. You know, he's more of a Cuban immigrant, and there's a real divide among Mexican-Americans and Cuban-Americans and where that constituency is. So the notion that he's a lock to get Mexican-American votes is a bit of a myth, but he's still a very solid candidate; will certainly be on the short list.

Rob Portman is from Ohio and very well-liked by senior members of the campaign and Mitt Romney himself. And he has a good economic record as a former trade cabinet member. So, he's very strong - Ohio, and he's got a good jobs message.

The guy, I think, is kind of an outsider that people should keep an eye is Bobby Jindal from Louisiana, 'cause he's - he'd be sort of an outside pick, a bit of a long shot that would excite people because, you know, he's of Indian descent. Conservatives love him. But he also has an amazing track record on health care issues. I mean he worked in HHS earlier on in his career, so you'd be an interesting pick and what I think would excite people and be a little bit different.

MARTIN: Well, it's a long game, the game of the veep stakes and we're just at the beginning of it.

MCKINNON: The speculation is just begun and it's going to give everybody something to talk about for the next three months.

MARTIN: Exactly. Mark McKinnon, Republican strategist, thanks so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

MCKINNON: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABBA SONG, "TAKE A CHANCE")

MARTIN: You're listening to NPR news.

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