Running for president is daunting. Running for vice president is tricky. Ultimately, there is only one person’s opinion which matters. The key is getting yourself positioned without putting off your target audience (the nominee).
“[Y]ou know, people are saying it’s a swing state,” McDonnell told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “We balance the budget without raising taxes, $1 billion in surplus, lowest unemployment in the Southeast. You know, we’re really pleased with [the] things we’ve been able to do in Virginia.”
The advantage to this approach is showing that you’ll go anywhere and do anything for the nominee. You signal that you won’t hesitate to take the job. The downside is that the nominee may feel pressured and take exception to a public campaign to sway him.
At the other extreme, a vice presidential wannabe can play hard to get. In fact, he can disclaim interest in the job and refuse to endorse in the primary. This has been the approach of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). To some extent, it has also been the tactic of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Now this doesn’t mean they are being unhelpful. Rubio delivered some blows to Newt Gingrich in Florida, and Ryan has praised Romney’s stance on entitlement reforms. The danger here, of course, is that the nominee takes the disclaimers of interest seriously or concludes that the potential VP is playing too coy and seeking for the party and nominee to plead with him to change his mind.
Moreover, by keeping a low profile when the candidate needs him most (in heated primaries), these potential picks don’t get the opportunity to prove they’d be able defenders. The impression may be created that the hard-to-get VPs are concerned more with protecting their own image than in assisting the nominee.
Then there is the loyal-friend approach. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) have endorsed Mitt Romney and gone everywhere they were asked. Thune traveled throughout Iowa. Christie has been to multiple states. Their relationship, whether close or formal, remains hidden from public view. They don’t talk out of school or get out ahead of the candidate. The benefit here is that the potential pick previews what kind of VP they would be — discreet, loyal, energetic and fierce.
There is no right way to do this. Indeed, it may not make a difference in the end what the potential VPs do. Ultimately, the nominee wants someone who is credible as the next-in-line to the president, someone he can trust, someone who will be a plus in the general election and someone who will be an asset in office. VPs may not be able to “win” the job by campaigning, but they might wind up undermining their efforts. In short, the goal is to appear ready and willing to serve, but not desperate or pushy.