Mitt Romney's decision to leave the race for the Republican nomination answers one question definitively: John McCain is now the GOP nominee.
But other questions remain unanswered. What will Romney do now? How long will Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul stay in the race? Who has the edge to become McCain's vice president?
Romney ran a tough political campaign rising from relative political obscurity and coming close to winning the nomination. His has ensured a political future for himself. Romney is only 60 and could easily run for president again in either 2012 or 2016. Republicans might remember that Ronald Reagan didn't win the first time around in 1976 but did four years later.
But I don't think Romney will be chosen as McCain's vice president. As I
said earlier Thursday, Romney's attack ads were harsh during this campaign, and I doubt McCain will readily forgive him. Furthermore, McCain ran strong in the Northeast, winning in New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. He needs no help from Romney in those areas.
What about Ron Paul? According the Texas Congressman's Web site, his campaign has collected a marginal number of Republican delegates for the GOP convention -- at present count about 42 -- and relishes a goal of taking them to the convention in September. Furthermore, Paul continues to raise money, with more than $5 million for this quarter and more than $33 million for the campaign cycle. Paul will clearly continue to spread his message until the money runs out.
Huckabee started the year with a bang. He won the Iowa caucus, but he couldn't continue the momentum. After losing a tight race with McCain in South Carolina and getting crushed in Florida, many questioned him staying in the chase. Clearly, Huckabee has hopes of raising his profile. He's only 52 -- two decades younger than McCain -- and may want to keep a high profile.
Huckabee has no chance of catching McCain. It's only a matter of time before he leaves the race. Does he stand a chance at becoming McCain's vice president?
McCain's Running Mate?
McCain needs to heal the wounds in the Republican Party. He has taken vicious shots from the right-wing noise machine, including Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingram, Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt. McCain has called for calm in the past day. None of these figures respect McCain's proclivity to vote outside the party's interest, though this does play well with independent voters.
The bigger question now is whom will McCain pick to solidify the Republican ticket? McCain has a strong record on both defense and foreign affairs. But he remains on shaky ground with fiscal conservatives, who criticized him for initially opposing Bush's tax cuts, and he isn't the first choice of evangelicals.
As I said earlier, Romney won't appease some conservatives. Huckabee could help win support from evangelicals, except for one big skeleton in his political closet: Wayne DuMond. Huckabee pardoned DuMond while governor of Arkansas. After securing his release, DuMond went on to sexually assault and murder a woman in Missouri. I think Huckabee has a better chance making his mark in TV.
A safer choice for McCain in terms of appealing to evangelicals is Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.). Brownback had been a presidential hopeful until November. When he pulled out of the race, he surprisingly chose to endorse McCain.
But Brownback offers very little geographic help. Kansas has no so many electoral votes; McCain would more likely look for help in important swing states like Florida, Ohio or even Wisconsin.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist might fit that bill. Crist made a critical endorsement of McCain before the primary, and Crist campaigned hard with McCain, helping him win the state. Crist is not without problems, however. He lacks national recognition and may come under some fire from evangelicals for not doing more on the Terri Schiavo case while attorney general.
Several other governors might stand a chance, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a former Giuliani supporter who endorsed McCain last week. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a McCain supporter, is a possibility. And finally, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson could help shore up swing states in the Midwest.
Luckily for McCain, the Democratic primary has no end in site. This gives him the opportunity to regroup conservatives, reload money and take time to make a solid choice in a running mate.