It’s been more than 30 years since a presidential nominee was actually decided at a national party convention. Winning the nomination at the convention used to be a dramatic and exciting event in a balloon-filled-anything-goes atmosphere of secret negotiations, compromises and numerous “great states of…” voting on multiple ballots to choose their favorite, but those days have retreated into memory, and the single ballot is now a function of order and convention tidiness.
In bygone days, the record for the most ballots was held by the Democrats in 1924 when it took 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis from West Virginia. He has the honor of being the original dark horse, and that rare individual—a conservative Democrat. 1924 was also notable because liberal Democrats bolted the party and backed a candidate from the Progressive Party Robert La Follate of Wisconsin. This year a similar event could take place as dissatisfied conservative Republicans seek a savior.
The possibility of having a dark horse candidate at a national party convention in recent history has become remote as moneyed war chests and now Super PACs play such an important role in deciding who will be the people’s choice in any election. As the Republicans race to the finish line, it’s not a gamble anymore about who the winner will be. Here it is March with 22 primaries still scheduled, and the winner is already projected.
The delegate count is the statistic to watch, and this year’s predictive numbers are beginning to emerge. The other candidates will fall in or out of line behind the front runner, as the conversations turn to whomwill choose as his vice-presidential running mate, and will the other candidates fall into line to support him in the interest of party unity?
As the number of delegates begins to add up in favor of Romney, the candidates who have been running against him will have to choose. The delegate count so far is as follows: Romney 415; Santorum 178; Gingrich 107; Paul 46. Will these candidates support Romney, drop out of the race, or pursue a path possibly on to a third-party nomination or even a brokered convention. There hasn’t been one of those since the Republican convention battle in 1976, when Reagan tried to oust from the ticket after the incumbent failed to win enough delegates during the primaries to ensure a nomination.
Depending on the southern conservative block, Santorum could score in the southern states of Mississippi, and Alabama as well as the heartland’s Kansas. He won a straw poll in Missouri in February, so his chances in Missouri are good.
But the outlook is still daunting as projections against him continue to surface. In the New York Timesprojects, “Mr. Santorum will have to win in most places like Illinois to have a decent chance at preventing Mr. Romney from securing the nomination. And he’ll have to win in states much more challenging than Illinois — possibly as challenging as California — to overtake Mr. Romney in the delegate count….”
The California primary isn’t until June, and to say California is “challenging” for Santorum is putting it mildly—it’s impossible. Romney has said it will take and “act of God” for Santorum to win enough delegates, and Santorum agreed in a speech in Puerto Rico. (I am still trying to figure out why he went there). Santorum would have to win nearly 70% of the remaining delegates in order to secure the nomination as long as Romney is in the race.
Why is he still running? Is it pride or the knowledge at age 68 this is his last presidential bid hurrah? In Edwin O’Connor’s prize winning 1956 novel The Last Harrah, an aging political attempts to retain his political power, but is pitted against not only a younger candidate, but changing times as well. The election is called his “last hurrah" for the kind of old-style machine politics. Advancements in American public life, including the consequences of the New Deal, had changed politics and the aging politician no longer could survive in the new age with younger voters.
And prophetically, for the first time, television ads were pivotal for the winner in the 1950s. Television ads are still one of the most influential modes in campaigning, and the only difference is the amount of money being committed. Gingrich—and the other opponents—are discovering that challenging a front-runner with the power of the new Super PACs is not only daunting, but insurmountable.
In 2008 the Obama campaign spent $750 million to win the election, and this year the Republican nominee and Obama could each top $1 billion in campaign spending. Compare those numbers to 1952 when television ads were first introduced by the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket for president, and they spent a mere $2 million dollars to win the presidency.
Perhaps it’s time for Gingrich to strike his presidential tent, bow out gracefully and reconnect with his constituency in another capacity, just not as president.
Post-Super Tuesday, Republican candidate Ron Paul is noncommittal and is not rushing to the Romney camp now or perhaps ever. He might be holding out to rush the convention or bolt and run as a third-party candidate. He is a leader, not a follower, so a third-party bid might appear enticing right now. Some speculate Paul as a possible vice-presidential choice; however, Romney needs to rally the Southern vote that has mostly gone to Santorum so far.
Romney and Paul differ on foreign policy also; therefore, the possibility of two being on the same ticket is a stretch. Romney might have a purported foreign policy, but he does not have actual foreign policy experience, which could be his nemesis against President Obama. Therefore, his vice-presidential choice needs to be someone who has real experience making decisions in government regarding foreign policy and rally the Southern vote. Does a possible candidate exist with both of these qualities?
With three months left in the primary season and the Republican nominee more or less decided, it’s time for the Republican Party to begin binding up their wounds and concentrate on unity if it’s going to be possible to present a united front to challenge President Obama in the fall whose favorability is increasing in the polls every month. The combination of unity and a party platform amenable to both centrists and conservatives will be critical. A viable Republican challenger whom Americans can trust both domestically and in foreign policy will be a key component. Romney needs to convey convincible strengths, if not demonstrated from tangible experience, to liberals, conservatives and the sought-after independents. For the former governor, this might be achieved by choosing a vice-presidential candidate who bridges the gaps in his experience.
In 2008, Obama wisely chose Joe Biden who brought many years of foreign policy experience to the ticket, and enriched his candidacy against those who questioned his experience. Who will be Romney’s best choice with a similar challenge? Of the five names on Romney’s short list -- Marco Rubio, Chris Christi,, and Sen. -- only South Carolina Sen. DeMint has any foreign policy experience and is considered a Southerner, whereas Marco Rubio from Florida is the only Southerner.
Balancing the Republican ticket is definitely going to be a factor in maximizing the appeal of the Republican Party, and the vice-presidential candidate needs to contribute qualities less apparent in the presidential candidate. JFK chose a Southernand the inexperienced George Bush chose the Washington insider Dick Cheney.
Indeed, choosing a presidential running mate is a strategic decision requiring consideration of many variables, and the Republicans definitely have a significant challenge in this year’s vice-presidential selection.
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