Following a Thursday Wall Street Journal editorial sizing up the field, the GOP veepstakes is now officially in full swing. According to the Journal, no obvious candidate is to be found. Maybe that’s because the editors weren’t looking in the right place.
In the Journal’s assessment, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Alaska governor Sarah Palin suffer from relative inexperience and newness to the national scene, as even more do eBay’s Meg Whitman and FedEx’s Fred Smith. Per the editorial page, Florida governor Charlie Crist and recent presidential contender Mike Huckabee are too given to political opportunism, a turnoff to the party’s dispirited faithful and a criticism the page also applied (unfairly on substance but perhaps accurately on perceptions) to Mitt Romney. Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman was praised as outstanding on taxes and foreign policy but likely to be nixed by social conservatives. Among the rest, former Tennessee senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson and former Ohio congressman and Fox News host John Kasich received special nods. Yet like everyone else, it seems, the Journal reached no solid conclusion, found no “miracle choice.” With that in mind, let me offer one until-now unmentioned name.
First the background: Vice presidential candidates serve two purposes, to win their own states and to give heft to the ticket leader in one or more areas where he’s lacking. McCain needs also to signal to both his base and independents that they can trust him. And he’ll probably want someone who can speak credibility to economic issues, particularly those applying to troubled parts of the manufacturing sector.
This year the largest concentration of up-for-grabs states is in the central Midwest – Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Michigan sits at the center of this cluster, with media markets that reach into each of the four other states. It has not voted Republican in a presidential race since 1988 but is clearly winnable for the GOP. As of Sunday, Obama had a Real Clear Politics average lead in the state of only 3.2 percent, margin of error territory.
So here is my thought for McCain’s running mate: former Michigan governor and current president of the National Association of Manufacturers John Engler. Why?
First is his standing in his home state itself. He remains popular there, perhaps more so as time has gone on. After good years under his stewardship, Michigan has suffered what was until recently termed a one-state recession, thanks to his successor, a very liberal Democrat who has pursued Obama-like economic policies to disastrous result. As a highly successful governor in the nation’s emblematic manufacturing region, Engler would be able to speak with authority on the needs of the nation’s economy and the dangers of the economic course Obama wants to take.
The former governor’s current role heading the leading trade association of the nation’s manufacturers would normally be a vice presidential deal breaker. But this year, with the Democrats having laid so much emphasis on the supposed decline in manufacturing, who could speak with more authority on what will help or hurt manufacturing in the United States?
In the last several years, my firm has worked on projects that Engler has supported, and through those projects I have seen the former governor in operation. He is clearly a savvy politician who could handle the rigors of a national campaign.
So that’s another name for the list. My own personal favorite for McCain’s running mate has been Senator Lieberman, but I’ve heard about the same reservations in the same quarters as the Journal writers have heard. In a field where no one mentioned to date brings everything to the table, a successful former governor a major Midwestern manufacturing state, who out of government has had to deal daily with the policy challenges facing the nation’s manufacturing sector, may be just the ticket – or, more to the point, the right other half for the GOP ticket.