With the Republican National Convention less than three months away, the buzz is building about who will be Romney’s pick for Veep. Rumors abound that Romney has a “short list” of as few as four candidates who are currently being vetted for an offer. It’s pretty clear that the GOP’s nominee does not want a repeat of 2008, when some on the right claim the McCain campaign did a less-than-stellar job of vetting Sarah Palin, a misfire leading to weeks of defensive campaigning about everything from Troopergate to Bristol Palin’s pregnancy. Against a first-ever African-American incumbent, the Republicans can’t afford a single misstep, and that’s why this potential surprise Veep pick could be what Romney may use to win over the conservative wing and energize the base of the party, but will it cost him the election?
THIS WEEK’S SURPRISE V.P. PICK: John Kasich, Governor, State of Ohio
On the surface, Kasich appears to be a dream-come-true for Romney. Conservative, pro-life, anti-tax and small government, he provides the antidote to many in the party’s right wing who accuse Romney of being a “liberal in conservative clothing.” Having been a fill-in for Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, and later a host of Heartland with John Kasich, he has an excellent working knowledge of the media, its tendencies, and how to put up a solid rebuttal on the campaign trail. He brings a swagger to the table, and it’s that swagger which could make his a tantalizing pick for Romney’s campaign honchos.
Unfortunately, Kasich carries a lot of political baggage. Starting in 2011 with recalling a 2008 incident in which he described a Columbus Police Officer as an “idiot” to the EPA, Kasich is known for being outspoken. However, where Joe Biden is known for saying outrageous things and is laughed off as a “loony liberal” by many, Kasich is a sitting governor of a bellwether state and, therefore, enjoys no such luxury of error. In 2010, the Ohio Elections Commission cleared him of charges of violations of campaign finance laws when former employer News Corp, parent of Fox News, contributed to his campaign. The fact he won office in 2010 with only 49% of the vote speaks volumes about just how split the Buckeye State is.
Kasich’s record as governor is a mixed bag. He scores points with his handling of Ohio’s economy, and can claim that unemployment where from almost 10% to just under 8% in his first year as governor. He also cut a $8 billion deficit down to nothing, balancing Ohio’s bloated budget. Kasich opposed collective bargaining rights for in-home child care workers, but has no problems with unions in industries which “make things.” His credentials are loaded with business experience and he even served in the U.S. House of Representatives, but many allies see him differently.
“He came from an average background.” Curt Steiner, Chief of Staff for former governor George Voinovich, said to the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998. “He’s in touch with people. He’s not a Beltway thinker.”.
Where Romney would have to be careful is the appearance of hyper-conservatism and in some cases, hypocrisy, with Kasich. The governor worked for Lehman Bros. in Columbus while the 2008 Mortgage Meltdown happened. He also attempted to keep the $400 million in federal funding for high speed rail on the condition that it could be used for other projects. Florida’s Rick Scott, by contrast, refused the money outright. While that brought a hailstorm of criticism on Scott, he is able to at least claim he’s consistent with not accepting government funds for what he considers “unneeded” projects. In addition, Kasich’s lack of African-Americans in his cabinet is sure to be an issue in an election cycle where racial politics continue to dominate.
Kasich will appeal to evangelicals, having converted from Roman Catholicism. He is considered a social conservative, but is on the fence on such things as gambling being source of revenue for the state. That aside, this could be a temptation, a political “deal with the devil” which Romney may find too hard to resist.
NEXT WEEK’S SURPRISE V.P. PICK: Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security