Portman ‘78 misses VP bid on Romney ticket
By James Peng, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, August 17, 2012
Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s pick of 42-year-old Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate represents a bold and risky choice aimed to energize his party’s base, but Ryan’s inexperience in several areas and far-right ideology may eventually harm the GOP’s performance in the election, according to political experts interviewed by The Dartmouth.
Ryan was chosen over Sen. Rob Portman ’78, R-Ohio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who were among the most likely choices for the Republican vice-presidential nomination.
The increased media attention on Portman, an anthropology major while at the College, will have a positive effect on his future career, but he is unlikely to become either vice president or president in the near future, according to Morton Kondracke ’60, the executive editor of Roll Call and a College trustee.
“His future is as a problem-solving senator, and the country needs people like that,” Kondracke said. “It needs people who understand the budget, finance, and foreign policy, people who can look for solutions to big problems. He’s a perfect asset to our country.”
As the House Budget Committee chairman, Ryan has advocated for cutting government spending, simplifying the federal government’s tax program and reshaping the Medicare program.
“His greatest achievement [as a representative] is his budget plan, which is a conservative plan that aims to balance the budget and reduce the deficit,” government professor Joseph Bafumi said.
By bringing attention to these issues, Ryan has “set himself apart” as the leader of the House Republicans by bringing the issue of fiscal austerity to the forefront, according to Jennifer Marsico, senior research associate at American Enterprise Institute, a neo-conservative think tank.
Although Ryan is often praised for his budget expertise, his fiscal conservatism could hurt his chances in states that have a large population of elderly voters, according to David Boaz, senior vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
“If [Democrats] can make Ryan the face of taking Medicare away from people, that could hurt their chance of winning Florida, New Hampshire and possibly other states,” Boaz said.
Ryan’s proposed Medicare policy is often characterized by more liberal members of Congress as “draconian” and the “end of Medicare as we know it,” Kondracke said.
Political experts said that Romney’s choice to select Ryan may give him an advantage in Wisconsin, where polls remain very close.
The choice of Romney’s running mate, however, does not bring a big electoral advantage to the Republican campaign because Wisconsin only has 10 electoral votes, Bafumi said. If Romney had chosen either Portman or Rubio, he could have gained an edge in one of two key swing states — Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes, or Florida, which has 28 votes, he said.
“I don’t think Ryan will be a good pick electorally come election day,” Bafumi said. “My guess is he’ll regret not having picked Portman, who may have helped him pick up Ohio.”
Even with Ryan on the Republican ticket, winning Wisconsin is still not a guarantee for Romney, Marsico said, as recent political polls still indicate a slight edge for President Barack Obama in the state.
Government professor John Carey said that Romney was likely searching for something more than an electoral advantage in his running mate choice.
“He was looking for someone who was going to get the Republican base excited,” Carey said. “There was a lot of media pressure for him to pick Ryan. The Tea Party likes him.”
Despite his conservatism, Ryan is not a member of the Tea Party, as evidenced by his willingness to compromise with members of the opposing party, Kondracke said. For example, Ryan drafted a piece of Medicare legislation in December in collaboration with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
However, Romney — who has been viewed with skepticism by those farthest right in the Republican party — may be hoping to attract conservative voters with his choice, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor David Canon.
By picking Ryan, Romney — who is currently leading Obama 47 to 45 percent nationally according to Thursday’s Gallup Poll — showed that he harbored slight doubts about his status in the election, Boaz said.
“I think it is an indication that Romney was not as confident about winning the election as he had been,” Boaz said. “His selection of Ryan showed that their thinking had changed and they did need to shake things up.”
Canon said, however, that Rubio would have been a more appropriate game-changing candidate than Ryan.
“If he wanted to go dramatic, Rubio would have been better,” he said. “By picking Rubio, he would have probably been able to knock down Florida.”
All political experts interviewed by The Dartmouth said that one of Ryan’s greatest strengths over the other candidates is his youth and charisma.
“I think [Romney] wanted to generate some excitement,” Bafumi said. “He wanted someone who might appeal to conservatives, someone with generational appeal — who might excite young people perhaps, someone considered to be a very smart and capable individual.”
Portman and Pawlenty, though both “solid choices,” were generally conveyed as “boring” candidates to the media, Boaz said. Portman, who is viewed as a more moderate Republican, shares the same basic values and holds similar characteristics to Romney, according to Kondracke.
“Portman looks a lot like Romney,” he said. “What Romney was looking for was someone who was going to create some excitement.”
Yet, Ryan’s youth and lack of experience operating in a national campaign may eventually prove to be a significant challenge in the coming weeks, according to Canon.
“In the last few days, he’s gotten a little bit of a taste of what a national campaign is like,” he said. “Ryan will face a lot more scrutiny than ever before in his political career.”
Most political experts said that the vice-presidential choice historically does not have a substantial effect on the outcome of the election.
Canon said that significance of vice-presidential picks is “overblown,” and the results of the elections are unlikely to change unless a candidate makes a “dramatically great pick or dramatically poor pick.”
The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Portman was a member of the Class of 1987, when in fact he graduated in 1978.