TUPPER: Thune fits the part of VPThough senator says he’s not interested, he would be good choice for running mate.
By: Seth Tupper, The Daily Republic
If Mitt Romney parlays his win in the Iowa caucuses into more victories in other states, speculation about his choice of a running mate will rev up quickly.
That speculation could include South Dakota’s John Thune, a high-ranking Republican senator who campaigned for Romney in Iowa.
At least that’s what I thought until Wednesday, when Thune was paraphrased by The Associated Press as saying he’s not interested in being Romney’s running mate. Yet Thune also said he never rules out any opportunity to serve his state and country, which sent a confusing double message.
Whatever his intentions, Thune, or at least somebody like him, would be a good running mate for Romney. Of that I’m thoroughly convinced, and I’ll spend the rest of this column explaining why.
First, let’s get an objection out of the way. According to supposed conventional wisdom, presidential candidates should pick running mates from states with a lot of electoral votes. Some pundits probably disregard Thune because of the paltry three electoral votes in his home state of South Dakota.
It’s a ridiculous criticism, and a glance through recent history shows why. Barack Obama won in 2008 with running mate Joe Biden, who brought only three electoral votes from Delaware, and George W. Bush won in 2004 and 2000 with running mate Dick Cheney, who brought only three electoral votes from Wyoming.
So, based on the last three presidential elections, it could be argued that having a running mate from a state with only three electoral votes is a recipe for success.
With that out of the way, let’s consider some of Thune’s qualifications, in what I think is their order of importance.
1. He’s not Sarah Palin. If there is anything the Republican presidential hopefuls should have learned from 2008, it’s the importance of avoiding a running mate whose loud, celebrity-like persona will overshadow them.
2. He counterbalances Romney’s Mormonism. Romney’s candidacy is at risk of being torpedoed by hard-line, fundamentalist Christians in the Religious Right who believe their brand of religion has a monopoly on “The Truth.” They could be turned off by someone who is devoutly committed to a religion they may view as bogus.
There are other voters who are casual Christians. They don’t necessarily care about a candidate’s religious views, as long as those views fall in line with mainstream Christianity. Those voters might be turned off by Romney, whose religion they might perceive as outside the mainstream.
Enter Thune, an evangelical Christian. If a rock-solid evangelical like Thune is comfortable supporting Romney, why wouldn’t other evangelicals feel the same?
3. He’s got a great personal story. Thune grew up in the dusty western town of Murdo, with a father who was a World War II fighter pilot. From humble beginnings, he willed himself into Washington’s halls of power. He also had the guts to challenge two powerful incumbents along the way — Tim Johnson, to whom he narrowly lost, and Tom Daschle, whom he famously dethroned in 2004.
4. He’s fit to take over as president. Thune was in the conversation as a potential 2012 presidential candidate until dropping out last year. His presence in that conversation means observers across the country view him as somebody who could be president, which is reason aplenty to believe he could be vice president. Beyond that, he’s got years of experience in government, including stints in the House and Senate.
There are some wild cards that could keep Thune off the ticket, including his half-assertion that he doesn’t want to be on it.
I’ve also written before that I’m not sure Thune’s wife, Kimberley, is willing to subject herself and their daughters to the scrutiny of a national campaign. She has campaigned for her husband in the past, but she’s stayed out of the public eye during non-election years. As far as I know, she’s also stayed in Sioux Falls during most of her husband’s congressional service, rather than relocate the family to Washington.
Would Mrs. Thune be willing to suffer a presidential campaign? Maybe not. But maybe she would be willing to suffer a vice presidential campaign, which would be considerably less intrusive.
Another wild card is the lack of diversity that a Romney/Thune ticket would present. In this day and age, it might be foolish for a middle-aged white guy to pick a running mate who is also a middle-aged white guy.
Ultimately, presidential candidates should follow an old football adage. Running mates, like offensive linemen, only get attention when they do something wrong. While it’s tempting to spice up the ticket with somebody as dynamic as Sarah Palin, it’s almost always better to pick somebody as steady as John Thune.