Apples, Oranges, and Vice Presidents
Nate Silver compares Mitt Romney’s 2008 primary fundraising with that of George W. Bush in 2004 and concludes that Romney would be an asset, were he added to the Republican ticket as vice presidential nominee, in the Mormon Belt but a liability in the Deep South. The problem with this is at least twofold.
First, people simply aren’t as enthusiastic about the number two spot on the ticket. A goodly percentage of those who supported Romney in the primaries disliked McCain and vice versa. It’s not at all clear that adding Romney to a ticket led by McCain would motivate Romney’s old supporters. (The reverse is likely true as well. I was no fan of Romney in the primaries but think he’d be a solid VP pick.)
Second, and more importantly, comparing performance in the uncontested 2004 primary with the very competitive 2008 primary contest makes no sense. People donating to Bush in 2004 were doing so to fund advertising and organization to defeat the Democrats in their bid to take back the White House. Those not giving money to Romney in 2008 were expressing a preference for a different Republican.
Indeed, the states Silver colors red, indicating that they had the biggest dropoffs for Romney vis-a-vis Bush, are among the most solid Republican states. If Obama is competitive in Arkansas and Alabama, we’re beyond the point where vice presidential picks matter.
Extrapolating general election outcomes from primary contests yields strange conclusions. That Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton handily in Virginia tells us nothing about a McCain-Obama matchup in the Old Dominion. Similarly, the fact that white working class voters in West Virginia preferred Clinton to Obama doesn’t mean McCain is more likely to win.