Tales from the Trail

A Number Cruncher could add up to become Romney running mate

July 19, 2012

Washington number crunchers are finally getting some respect.

Just take a look at Mitt Romney’s search for a Republican vice presidential running mate.

With the economy the top issue in the Nov. 6 elections, Romney’s short list of his possible picks features two of Congress’s most wonkish guys.

One, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, served as President George W. Bush’s budget director, and is now viewed as a top contender.

The other, Paul Ryan, is chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee.

Numbers crunchers have long been seen as political stiffs.

They could bore a crowd, not build one.

They could inform a generation, not inspire one.

Times have changed.

“Being wonkish is no longer a liability. It’s politically sexy,” said Greg Valliere of Potomac Research Group, a private firm that tracks Washington for investors.

“The major issues now require green eye shades. They are the kind of people who would appeal to Romney,” Valliere said.

Several factors are considered in selecting a running mate, including who can shore up support in a specific state and who can give a campaign new zest and heft.

With such criteria, numbers crunchers have traditionally been ignored.

In 2008, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama picked globe-trotting Senator Joe Biden as his running mate to bolster his foreign policy credentials.

Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee that year, countered by choosing Sarah Palin to inject his campaign with new energy.

Portman would provide heft, but not necessarily much if any zest. He’s considered downright dull.

“The bland leading the bland,” is how late-night comic Stephen Colbert described a potential Romney-Portman ticket.

To be sure, Portman would draw fire for being part of a Bush administration that swelled the debt. Backers argue that Bush called the shots, not Portman, and that Obama has been worse.

Ryan is from Wisconsin, another key state. He’s seen as a more engaging speaker than Portman. But he’s also more polarizing for his proposed slashing of the federal government.

As the nominee, Ryan would be hit with criticism. But he knows numbers and could defend himself with reams of data.

Larry Sabato of University’s Virginia’s Center for Politics says it makes sense to consider number crunchers this year.

“Number crunchers can provide credibility,” Sabato said. “They can provide answers. It’s not an area for the novice.”

Photo credit: Mitt Romney (R) takes the stage with his wife, Ann (C), and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) at a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, March 5, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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