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Truth About Mitt Romney’s Running Mate Choice

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, address a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H., on Tuesday.

Over the past few months, I’ve written a couple of columns about presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s potential running mates Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Start with some biography, an anecdote or tidbit, add a dash of analysis and a blind quote and you’ve got an entertaining piece.

Given that equation, the prospect of an additional six or eight columns about other contenders — Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to name just a few — filled me with joy.

VP columns, which invariably run down the pluses and minuses of each name mentioned, are easy to write and people seem to like them. With each candidate’s stock going up or down depending on what the current buzz is, there is more than enough material to keep a columnist happy.

But I’m not merely a columnist. I’m a political analyst who writes a column. And the political analyst in me tells me that all of the chatter about Romney’s running mate is a lot of wasted, useless, meaningless hot air.

In all likelihood, Romney’s selection of a running mate will have little or no effect on the November general election.

When former Vice President Dick Cheney recently commented that “it’s pretty rare” that an election turns on the vice presidential pick, he was reflecting the views of most serious students of American politics.

There are, of course, exceptions, including the 1960 presidential race when the selection of Lyndon Johnson probably allowed the Democratic ticket to carry Texas. But the homogenizing of American culture (via television and the Internet) and the increased polarization of the country and ideological purity of the two parties have made it less likely that a running mate can “deliver” his or her state.

Of course, I can’t rule out the possibility that the selection of a Hispanic running mate could change the Electoral College math in 2012 or sometime in the future, or that some demographic group could be swayed by a selection for vice president in such a way that it could affect which ticket wins and which loses.

But Republican nominee Sen. John McCain put a woman on his ticket in 2008, only to have female voters give Democrat Barack Obama 56 percent of their vote.

True, a serious female candidate might have helped the Republican ticket perform better among women (and even among men), but the reality of presidential elections is that as the calendar moves away from the national nominating conventions and toward Election Day, voters see the contest as a choice between the two parties’ presidential nominees, not the two tickets.

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