Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paul Ryan, GOP Vice Presidential Nominee: Some Thoughts

FHQ will not go all long form here (or will try not to anyway). Plenty of others have more than adequately gotten the ball rolling in reaction to the Mitt Romney campaign's decision to tap Wisconsin representative, Paul Ryan, as the governor's running mate.

First thing's first: Let's check the speculation at the door here, shall we? I think we can all agree that the Ryan selection will have an impact. Subtract him and add, say, Tim Pawlenty and you get a potentially different outcome long term. That's the fun part, right? Treating this like the NBA Trade Machine. You can trade and trade and trade parts until you subjectively/hypothetically improve your team's chances of success. But other than gaining some insight into what the campaign is thinking, I don't know that the risk/reward calculus is all that fruitful an exercise. Hindsight is always 20/20 on these things. The one rule to always remember on VP selection is exactly what George W. Bush said about presidential debates, "I don't think you can ever win them, but you darn sure can lose them." In other words, these things are always "do no harm".

Instead of the calculus many are talking about then, let's talk about what we know. What data do we have?

1. Who is Paul Ryan?
A majority of Americans don't know. Those that do know Ryan are slightly more likely to view him unfavorably. That means that the race is on over the next two weeks -- before the Republican Convention kicks off in Tampa (and perhaps afterward) -- to define Ryan in much the same way that the campaigns' efforts have been about defining Romney this summer. Republicans will want to paint the Wisconsin representative as the visionary their standard bearer made the then-unknown pick to be in a recent NBC interview. Oppositely, Democrats will both want to tie Ryan to the frame they have attempted to construct around Romney (well off and out of touch with ordinary Americans) and to link Romney to the House Budget Committee chairman's controversial budget plan (which they view as a liability for the Republicans).

Just know that this attention on Ryan will be short-lived.  He is a number two and unless the Romney campaign roll out is gaffe-prone and rife with problems, the attention will ultimately shift back to the person at the top of the ticket and the race will, in Holbrook's terms, revert to its Romney equilibrium.

2. VP selection bounce
From FHQ's perspective, the best thing about the Ryan announcement occurring when it did is that the race will have a full two weeks before the Republican Convention in which to look at polls. That's a plus for a couple of reasons. First, we should see an uptick in polling starting now. Formerly risk-averse polling outlets will have a reason to go into the field: to test Ryan's impact. Secondly and unlike the two 2008 selections, we will have some time between the VP announcement and the conventions in which to -- admittedly only partially -- tease out the impact of each event. Both the Biden and Palin selections happened on the eves of their respective conventions. And in the Palin case that made it very difficult to discern whether or how much of McCain's early September jump in the polls was convention effect or VP effect.

As Jonathan Bernstein rightly pointed out, this VP bounce is a built-in part of the process. The structural impact of a vice presidential selection is approximately two points nationally. On the state level, however, that may be felt slightly differently. It isn't necessarily uniform across states. This is particularly true of the vice presidential nominee's home state. The Palin selection, for example, turned scantily-polled Alaska from a surprisingly competitive state to a rock-red state (a position the Last Frontier would likely have ended up in on election day anyway). Ryan's Wisconsin has been a comfortably blue state (Lean Obama throughout), but that consistency may bely the fact that the state hovers close to the breaking point in the FHQ metric between Lean and Toss Up (Obama) state. This could also potentially aid the Republican ticket in other midwest/blue-collar states.

But again, let's wait and see how the polls react to that instead of speculating.

Regardless, Romney will enjoy something of a bump out of the Ryan rollout, but we'll have to wait and see how exactly that manifests itself and where (in terms of location and groups of voters).

Are you following FHQ on TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook? Click on the links to join in.

No comments: