Clash of the presidential running mates

Aimee Burch

After Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney introduced Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate, Ryan was thrust into the spotlight.

Suddenly, it was not only important how Ryan’s philosophies stacked up to his running mate but also how those views would play out against his Democratic opponent, current President Barack Obama.

The vice-presidential decision is highly anticipated each election cycle. After both candidates have been determined, it is the next big milestone of a campaign.

Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science said the vice-presidential choice can add excitement to a campaign.

However, the choice of a running mate can be strategic. Schmidt said that at times, the choice can target a specific demographic the candidate is trying to reach. It can also work as an appeal to a certain state or region of the country.

“I think it’s pretty clear, and this is approaching consensus, that Ryan was meant to be ‘red meat’ to try and solidify support from the Republican party’s conservative base,” said Mack Shelley, university professor in political science. “As to why Ryan compared to some other Republican who is equally strong on the conservative side, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that Ryan had made a big splash for himself with what everyone calls the Ryan Budget Proposal. Whether you think it’s good, bad or otherwise, it does mark him as a policy leader.”

Shelley said one of the most obvious places the Republicans could see a direct impact from the Ryan choice is in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. While in the past Wisconsin has been seen as a “blue-ish” state, recent events such as the failed recall election of governor Scott Walker and the addition of Ryan, a political staple to Wisconsin, may help turn the tides in the Republicans’ favor. Though, Shelley said, the impact might not be all that noticeable in the grand scheme of the election.

When it comes to voter’s decisions, the vice presidential candidate does not seem to have all that much of an impact, both Schmidt and Shelley said. So far, most public opinion polls in the wake of Romney’s announcement show a slight increase in public support for the Republican ticket but nothing exponential. The approval ratings for both parties will likely rise during and right after their major party conventions.

“It’s really more of the convention that, at least temporarily, drives up support for the party that just had the convention,” Shelley said. “You tend to get much bigger bounces in national public opinion polls.”

“The Republicans will be meeting in Tampa, and they’ll have the airwaves pretty much to themselves. The Democrats won’t be just twiddling their thumbs during that, but you just can’t really get a word in edgewise because the media … will be following the convention and it kind of drowns out everything else.”

The Democratic convention meets a few weeks later in Charlotte, N.C., meaning their bump will come after the Republicans see their boost.

“There’s probably something to be said about getting your bounce later,” Shelley said. “Whoever bounces first has more time to recover, I suppose, if things don’t go well. But that initial bounce tends to get wiped out by whichever party comes later. In terms of a baseball metaphor, if you have the last chance at bat you have the last chance to win it.”

Another interesting time for both parties will be the series of presidential debates, one of which features the vice-presidential candidates.

“The VP debates between [Biden] and Ryan could be interesting,” Schmidt said. “Biden needs to be careful and not become too controversial. Ryan must show that he is not a radical budget cutter especially regarding Medicare.”

Even though the debates allow the chance for the candidates to shine individually, come election day, voters will be casting their vote for a complete ticket, not one or the other.

“In the end this is a race about jobs, the economy and trust of the presidential — not the VP — candidates,” Schmidt said.