A political question that may influence financial markets is who will win the White House in 2012. In addressing that, I argued in an earlier post that Mitt Romney is most likely to emerge as the Republican pick based on the Republican Party’s historical preference for candidates who fall short of the nomination after fighting well and stick around for another shot.[i] An important question in assessing the quality of the campaign Romney could deploy for the general election is whom he would choose for a running mate.
Over the summer, Romney remarked that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would be on his short list for a Vice President,[ii] but this just obscures a real heavyweight prospect for the nomination: Virginia Congressman and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Regional and other demographic considerations will make Cantor a formidable prospect to run with Romney:
The Southern Factor
For generations it was conventional wisdom in U.S. politics that between a presidential candidate and running mate, it was a good sell for one to be from the North and the other from the South. Kennedy (Massachusetts)/Johnson (Texas), 1960; Johnson (Texas)/Humphrey (Minnesota), 1964; and Carter (Georgia)/Mondale (Minnesota), 1976, all won national elections using that template, with Nixon (California)/Agnew (Maryland), 1968, 1972, winning on a Western/mid-Atlantic variant. The pattern has weakened as greater mobility has allowed individuals to garner more regional alliances over the course of their lives. George H.W. Bush was raised in New England but built his business and early political career in Texas, while Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, pursued higher education in New York and Massachusetts, and built his career in Illinois.
Nevertheless, North-South coverage is still a strong political asset, and Cantor’s Southern background would complement the pedigree of a Northern Republican like Mitt Romney, who was Governor of Massachusetts, and whose father was Governor of Michigan.
Obama won 53% of the vote to win Virginia, previously a Republican stronghold, in 2008,[iii] making the Old Dominion the swing state of the future. With 13 electoral votes in 2012, Virginia is a big prize, now just one electoral vote short of the 14 delegates New Jersey will bring to the table.[iv] Representing the Northwest Richmond area, and with strong pro-defense views that should be well received in the Virginia suburbs that are the home for much of the Washington, D.C. military/defense community, Cantor is a good bet to deliver Virginia.
But among the states, probably the biggest prize Cantor could deliver is Florida, the king of swing states. With 29 electoral votes (gaining 2 in the 2010 census),[v] Florida is now tied with New York for the third largest state by electoral votes,[vi] and the largest state likely to be in play because California (55 electoral votes) and New York (29 votes) are firm Democratic strongholds, and Texas (38 votes) is entrenched in the Republican camp. The winning presidential contender has taken Florida in 9 of the last 10 presidential elections, the exception being Bill Clinton in 1996.[vii]
Cantor’s key to Florida is his Jewish heritage. A 2006 survey estimates the Jewish population of Florida at over 650,000, then 3.7% of the state.[viii] That is not to say that Cantor’s path to delivering Florida would be easy. The Jewish electorate is overwhelmingly Democratic, with only 11-24% of Jewish voters supporting the Democratic candidate in every presidential contest since 1992.[ix]
But the numbers reveal that a good showing by Cantor could sway Florida. In 2008, Barack Obama won Florida by only 204,577 votes, 2.5% of the votes cast,[x] even with opponent John McCain suffering from his ill-suited running mate Sarah Palin. In a closer contest, George W. Bush won Florida by only 537 votes in the disputed 2000 election.[xi]
A clue to how Cantor could change the dynamics of the Florida presidential contest lies in the 1980, ’84 and ’88 elections, where the Republican candidate won 39% (Reagan), 31% (Reagan), and 35% (George H.W. Bush, running while Reagan’s Vice President) of the vote respectively.[xii] This better performance compared to later elections can be attributed to Reagan’s strong and sincere support of Israel.[xiii]
President Obama’s Israel policy has been controversial in the American Jewish community, especially since his public suggestion that Israel’s pre-1967 borders, with adjustments, should be the basis for peace negotiations.[xiv] With a strong Israel position and an articulate Jewish running mate, Romney could make sufficient inroads in Florida’s Jewish population to tilt the Sunshine State’s even scales. This prospect is also suggested by Republican Bob Turner’s victory this week in the special election to represent New York’s 9th congressional district, a heavily Democratic region covering parts of Queens and Brooklyn with a large Jewish population.[xv]
Like in my earlier post, my intention is not to endorse – and Rep. Cantor has long dismissed speculation that he would run for Vice President[xvi] and is not even a candidate for that office now – but to assess the possibility of an outcome. Of course there are many preconditions for this scenario to become a reality, not the least of which include Romney winning the nomination and Cantor deciding that he wants the job. But the prospect of a Romney/Cantor ticket shows the strength of the options Romney could have if he reaches the general election. At the very least that should play to his advantage in securing the nomination, but could ultimately do more.
[i] See my earlier post at http://www.thoughtsworththinking.net/2010/12/obama-vs-romney-an-early-election-2012-analysis/.
[vii] See link at note ii above.
[xii] See link at note ix above.
[xiii] See Mitchell Bard’s article at http://www.mitchellbard.com/articles/reagan.html, which cogently argues that Reagan projected true support of Israel’s role in the world despite occasional public rebukes.
[xiv] See e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/20/world/middleeast/20speech.html?pagewanted=all, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/05/22/ears-obama-israel-lobby-conference/, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/obama-speech-backlash-call-reinstate-1967-mideast-borders/story?id=13639200.
[xvi] See the post at http://blogs.jta.org/politics/article/2008/07/25/999430/cantor-for-veep and other sources for Cantor deflecting speculation that he would run with John McCain in 2008.