While the presidential horserace will consume much of the political media’s attention over the next year, muted Running Mate Match Game speculation is already underway. One figure that generates a disproportionate amount of discussion on this front is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Despite a series of public demurrals, Rubio-for-VP buzz is unlikely to dissipate any time soon. In Rubio, Republicans have a gifted politician, a very effective communicator, and someone who has earned near-universal admiration among conservatives. He also hails from a critical swing state, and could almost single-handedly put a coveted and growing demographic into play, virtually overnight. Rubio could be especially attractive to a potential Romney general election campaign, as the former Massachusetts Governor may feel pressure to select a running mate who ignites major excitement among the base – a la Sarah Palin in 2008.
But what if the nominee is Texas Governor Rick Perry? CNN’s latest nationwide poll of Republican primary voters gives Perry a nearly 2-to-1 advantage over Romney, solidifying his status as the field’s new frontrunner. Beyond a prevailing sense of urgency to fire the incumbent, Perry’s larger-than-life persona, hard-charging style, and conservative record make it entirely plausible that the GOP base would not need any further energizing heading into the campaign’s home stretch. Therefore, Perry’s political calculus for filling out his ticket would differ significantly from Romney’s.
Enter Tim Pawlenty. The former Minnesota Governor became the first major presidential candidate to drop out of the Republican race after registering a disappointing third-place finish at the Ames Straw Poll in early August. He has since swatted down suggestions that he run for the Senate against Democrat Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in the upcoming electoral cycle. This decision renders him available for the Veepstakes -- and although he may not be the most exciting choice, Pawlenty just might suit Rick Perry’s needs quite nicely.
Rick Perry is brash, bold, and projects a thoroughly Texan ethos. By comparison, Pawlenty is a gentler, though earnest, Midwestern conservative. He hews so closely to the “Minnesota nice” stereotype that he looked visibly uncomfortable attacking Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann during GOP debates. This contrast in dispositions could prove mutually valuable. Pawlenty could somewhat soften Perry’s hard-edged, take-no-prisoners personality and could slightly tamp down the razor-sharp spurs on his running mate’s cowboy boots. Meanwhile, the Texan’s aggressive campaign posture could focus and sharpen some of Pawlenty’s broadsides against President Obama.