Mitt Romney's chance of winning the crucial swing state of Florida in November gets a boost if he selects either of two minority running mates, according to a poll released Tuesday.
Condoleezza Rice, former president George W. Bush's national security advisor and secretary of state, would raise Romney’s standing in Florida, putting him one percentage point ahead of President Barack Obama, according to a Public Policy Polling analysis. Selecting Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida would push Romney two percentage points ahead of the president in Florida, the poll found.
“Basically what we found is that if Romney wants things to pretty much stay the same, he can make the safe choice and pick one of the boring old white guys," said Tom Jensen, director of PPP. "But I think it’s pretty clear with his running-mate choice, if he wants it be a game-changer he is going to have to take a risk.”
Romney's GOP campaign faces particular challenges in the Sunshine State. He needs to energize the Republican Party’s increasingly white, older and shrinking conservative base, attract independent voters and make significant inroads with groups that include blacks and Latinos that have traditionally opted for Democratic candidates. By some estimates, Romney needs to win as much as 40 percent of the Latino vote in order to take the White House.
In Florida, home to a deeply diverse electorate, the nation’s third-largest pot of electoral college votes and unsettled political leanings, Obama clings to a slim lead. Among likely Florida voters, 48 percent said they would back Obama and 47 percent said they would vote for Romney, according to PPP. Both Obama’s slight lead over Romney and any boost Romney may see by picking Rice or Rubio fall within the poll’s 3.3 percent margin of error.
With the race in Florida a toss-up, Raleigh, N.C.-based PPP tested the names of five potential Romney running mates with 871 likely voters in the period from July 26 to July 29. Some people often described as the most likely vice presidential picks could actually harm Romney’s chances in Florida, the poll found.
With former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as Romney's running mate, Obama remained one percentage point ahead of Romney. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal put Obama ahead by three percentage points. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman would give Obama a four-point advantage.
Rice is regarded as an unlikely vice presidential pick because of her association with some of the Bush administration’s controversial actions,. including the U.S. invasion of Iraq in a failed search for weapons of mass destruction. She also has publicly said she supports women’s access to a full range of reproductive options.
Rubio, widely regarded as a rising star in Florida politics, has seen his national stature fade this summer after the Obama administration announced a change in deportation policy that sucked much of the air from an immigration reform proposal Rubio had promoted in Spanish and English news outlets but hasn't introduced in the Senate.
Adding either Rice or Rubio to the Romney ticket sliced Obama’s lead with Latino voters from 27 percentage points to 14, according to the PPP analysis. Rubio, who is of Cuban descent, may have particular appeal in Florida, with its large Cuban population. And Rice is a rare candidate with national appeal across party lines, said Jensen.
“At a time when we are so polarized as a country it is really rare for somebody to have that kind of universal appeal,” said Jensen.