Within hours of President Obama winning the Nov. 6th presidential election, reporters, journalists and pundits had begun analyzing what went wrong for the Romney campaign. Among concerns about the Republican Party’s failure to reach minority voters and the Democratic Party’s superior ground game, several news sources argued that perhaps Romney had selected the wrong vice-presidential candidate in Paul Ryan. Maggie Haberman argued in a Politico piece that Romney might have done better had he selected a running mate who could have a “more game-changing impact.” Both Haberman and CNN political reporter Peter Hamby argued that Ohio senator Rob Portman would have been a better vice-presidential pick, especially because he could have helped Romney pick up votes in his battleground home state. But according to research conducted in the past few years about the impact of vice-presidential candidates on election, a different running-mate would have been just as ineffectual for a Romney win as Paul Ryan was.
Rob Portman wouldn’t have brought anything new to the table as Romney’s running mate that Paul Ryan didn’t In a 2008 study by Mark Hiller and Douglar Kriner on the changes in the office of the vice-president in recent years, the authors point out that vice-presidential running mates are rarely able to help win a home state. Ryan couldn’t help Romney win Wisconsin, and Portman probably wouldn’t have been able to help Romney win Ohio, or subsequently, the election.
Rather, Hiller and Kriner argue that running mates are more often selected on their perceived competence and governing experience (p. 407). Both Ryan and Portman are members of the U.S. Congress, a House representative and a senator, respectively. On top of that, both are noted for their expertise with the national budget and their economic experience, Ryan as current head of the House Budget Committee and Portman as former director of the Office of Management and Budget. Both Ryan and Portman have over a decade of governing experience, and both would have brought arguably the same levels of congressional authority to Romney’s campaign.
After Romney selected Ryan as his running mate in August, Gallup conducted a poll to find out what potential voters thought about the vice-presidential pick. Results showed that Ryan had some of the lowest levels of positive approval, particularly as compared to the 2008 VP pick Sarah Palin. But even with Ryan’s low approval ratings, survey respondents largely said that the vice-presidential pick wouldn’t affect their vote. Gallup pollster Lydia Saad pointed out that voters vote for presidents, not vice presidents. Even though two candidates run on a single party’s ticket, voters are only voting for one person. Saad’s argument in 2012 closely follows Martin Wattenberg’s 1995 research, which argued that while vice-presidential candidates might have some impact on the vote, they are not nearly as important as the presidential candidate.
In the coming months, Republican Party leaders will analyze every move the Romney campaign and the conservative wing made in the 2008 election, hoping to learn from their mistakes and win the Oval Office in 2012. Anyone might be able to point to several decisions in hindsight that the Romney camp could and should have made differently, but the vice-presidential pick shouldn’t be one of them.