McCain's Best Choices for Running Mate

The vice presidential sweepstakes are in full gear. For John McCain there are is no shortage of contenders. Every pundit has ideas for how to solidify McCain's base and more importantly, how to bolster his domestic credentials as the economy has moved to the top of the list of voters' concerns.

Some suggestions seem to be the product of pundits' active imaginations or wishful thinking.

Mitt Romney is featured on most lists, in part because of his business background and in part because of his supposed appeal to conservatives. But neither seems a well reasoned basis for putting him on the ticket. Despite his business credentials Romney routinely polled worse than John McCain among Republican primary voters on his ability to handle the economy. Somehow voters never bought him as the steward of the government's economic policies. And as for conservatives, Romney's third place finish in Red states on Super Tuesday and reputation as a Johnny-come-lately to conservative causes would suggest he is not going to attract many voters based on his conservative credentials.

Moreover, since Barack Obama has become the target of widespread criticism for flip flopping on every significant issue in the campaign, Romney's reputation for doing the same would pose a central problem for the McCain team. It would be hard to maintain this increasingly successful line of attack against Obama if McCain's own VP had a history of the same propensity to blow with the political winds.

Sarah Palin, the first term governor from Alaska, is another one to pop up on VP lists. Much has been made of the phenomenon of disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, especially women, failing to fall into line with Obama, so it is not surprising that some would tout a female running mate for McCain. But if Obama is attacked for lack of experience, what defense will McCain have when the Democrats point out her thin resume? Yes, she favors oil drilling, is a conservative reformer and might draw in some women voters, but the first rule of all vice presidents is to "do no harm." By undermining McCain's claim that experience is a critical consideration, she would do just that.

Although Romney and Palin may not be the answer, there is a serious concern about rounding out McCain's domestic policy credentials and convincing voters he cares about more than just national security. As he begins his policy offensive this week on the economy, he must fend off concerns that he lacks focus on the bevy of domestic issues (e.g. employment, trade, entitlements) which concern voters. For that reason, two other Republicans, both with considerable economic experience, may get a second look.

Rob Portman offers an attractive portfolio of domestic experience. Hailing from the critical state of Ohio, Portman held jobs in the administration of both George W. Bush (as Director of OMB and then as U.S. Trade Representative) and his father (as Associate Counsel to the President and later as Director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.) He also served twelve years in the House of Representatives. Described by one conservative publication as "bright, articulate, and photogenic" and "a rising star of the party even before he came to Congress in a special election in 1993," he also sports an 89% lifetime conservative rating by the American Conservative Union.