There seems to be a fair amount of scuttlebutt out there suggesting that Mike Huckabee is angling to be John McCain’s vice presidential pick. Some of this discussion comes from erstwhile supporters of Mitt Romney, claiming that that the other two worked together to tag-team their guy.
While there is no question that Romney suffered from competition by the combined forces of McCain and Huckabee, I think that it is highly unlikely that McCain would give any kind of serious thought to selecting Huckabee as his running mate. I doubt that Huckabee is on McCain’s long list of VP nominees, let alone his short list. Let me explain.
What does a candidate need to look for in a running mate? Should a running mate be selected to gain regional support? History shows that this rarely works. VP candidates do not tend to bring in votes from their region or even from their home state. Pundits talk about region like it’s important, but it turns out that it’s not really very important when it comes to actual votes. History also shows that the VP candidate rarely brings in votes from outside of the candidate’s party.
The main role a VP candidate plays during the campaign is to shore up the party base. They are sort of a cheer leader for the base. Wise candidates select running mates that provide the appearance to the base of balancing out the candidate’s perceived shortcomings.
Reagan picked Bush I (after trying for Ford) to reassure the moderate wing of the GOP, which had been strong prior to Nixon’s demise. As a moderate, Bush I picked conservative Quayle. That didn’t work out so well, because Quayle was not known for his conservative leadership. As a moderate Democrat, Clinton selected Gore, a solid liberal. Compassionate conservative Bush II partnered with Cheney, a defense hawk.
In each case, the candidate selected a running mate that was to help energize the registered party members. In each case, the candidate picked a running mate that had strengths where the candidate came up short in the party’s eyes. The same can pretty much be said of the candidates that lost. Very few people vote against a candidate based on his/her running mate, but a running mate can help determine the level of enthusiasm among party voters and workers.
The question then is whether Huckabee can energize the GOP base in ways that McCain cannot. On this point we must say that the answer is no. Huckabee has deep support in states with high concentrations of Evangelicals, but he generates little enthusiasm outside of that group. Polls show that even prior to Romney dropping out, two-thirds of Huckabee supporters listed McCain as their second choice. In other words, McCain will get most of Huckabee’s supporters without even having to ask for them.
McCain is currently faltering with the conservative GOP base. Many of these people feel downright alienated by McCain. He needs to pick a running mate that helps shore up that base. He already has broad support, but he also needs deep support. Many conservatives are ready to sit out this election and watch McCain go down in flames. They don’t need him. But he needs them. Despite his appeal to independent and moderate voters, McCain still needs the deep conservative base to do the grass roots work.
In that vein, former PA Rep. Pat Toomey (President of the conservative Club for Growth) had this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. He suggests the likes of SC Gov. Mark Sanford, SC Sen. Jim DeMint, IN Rep. Mike Pence, former TX Sen. Phil Gramm, and Forbes Inc. CEO Steve Forbes.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s name has been tossed around by some, but her close affinity with the Bush administration likely counts her out. Nor does she have any real record on fiscal issues that would appeal to conservatives. Some have suggested SD Gov. Mike Rounds. How about OK Sen. Tom Coburn?
McCain’s support among the GOP faithful, particularly among those that consider themselves to be conservative is poor. His overall support among actual Republicans is fairly weak. He already appeals to independents and moderate Democrats. What he needs in a running mate is someone that looks like a real tax cutting, anti-spending, social conservative. Huckabee fails on two of those three points. Having someone that looks strong (but not crazy) on immigration would help as well.
There are a lot of people that could help bolster McCain’s standing with the GOP conservative base as his running mate. Mike Huckabee is not among that number.