Opinion

The best pick for Romney vice president? The one no one's talking about.

Speculation over Mitt Romney's pick for vice president repeats the same few names. But there’s another VP Mr. Romney should consider, someone who could help him with the Jewish vote and gain him support in a crucial swing state: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

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    House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia joins other GOP House leaders as they talk to reporters in Washington July 24. Op-ed contributor Jeremy D. Mayer says selecting Mr. Cantor as a vice presidential running mate would be 'the smartest pick' for Mitt Romney, whose campaign said Tuesday it will announce Mr. Romney’s pick for vice president via smartphone app.
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The Romney campaign announced Tuesday that it will alert Mitt Romney's supporters of his pick for vice president via smartphone app, renewing speculation about a potential VP and Mr. Romney’s timeline for announcing the decision.

The great mentioning game for the Republican vice presidential slot has featured the same few names over and over: Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Mitch Daniels, Rob Portman, even Condoleezza Rice. But there’s a candidate that Romney should be considering, someone who could help him with the Jewish vote, gain him support in a crucial swing state, and give him an exciting surprise selection bounce: Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the House of Representatives.

But Mr. Cantor, the strongest pick for Romney, isn’t even listed on predictwise’s otherwise exhaustive set of 26 possibilities, which even includes such unimaginable choices as Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul.

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Why reach way back into the obscurity of the House of Representatives to Cantor, passing over so many able governors and senators, most with much bigger national name recognition?

For starters, Cantor is sharp, and knows all the major national issues. Picking a governor always involves a steep learning curve as he or she gets a crash course in national and international issues. There would be no Palin moments with Cantor. Sunday talk-show firing lines come easy to Cantor.

At the same time, like Sarah Palin, Cantor would be almost a completely fresh face for most Americans, and a young and attractive face at that. He’s got nerd-chic, and that may be just the right image for economic hard times.

Cantor also comes from a crucial swing state, Virginia, and his name on the GOP ticket would make it a lot easier for Romney to carry the Old Dominion. Romney almost has to have Virginia in order to get to the White House, and it is well within reach. Cantor would probably seal the deal. And having a Southerner will help throughout the region, particularly for Romney, who did so poorly in the southern Republican primaries in both 2008 and 2012.

Cantor has also shown an ability to raise money on the national scale, which will come in handy, as Romney will surely reject public financing in the fall.

And Cantor’s been tested and investigated. He seems clean as a whistle, and that is a priceless asset in a running mate today.

Then, there’s the coup de grace of the Cantor candidacy: the Jewish vote. American Jews are overwhelmingly leaning for Obama, even after all the strains in the US-Israel relationship during Obama’s first term. I doubt Cantor could get Romney anywhere near a majority of the Jewish vote. But in the crucial state of Florida, where Jewish voters comprise a vital bloc, Cantor’s heritage could swing a lot of votes.

Will Jews cross party lines to vote for a Republican just because he shares their faith? It’s tough to know for sure, as the vast majority of Jewish politicians have been Democrats (of the 37 Jews in Congress today, the only Republican is Cantor). But Romney doesn’t need (and will never get) a majority of the Jewish vote. In states like Florida and Pennsylvania, he just needs to reduce Obama’s support among this small but high-turnout demographic.

Political experts were surprised in 2000 by the excitement that vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman generated among Jews in Florida. Cantor would be ideally positioned to exploit Obama’s weakness among some Jewish supporters of Israel.

But how could Romney, a Mormon who has not been a favorite with much of the evangelical Christian wing of his party, pick as his running mate a candidate from another minority religion? Might he run the danger of offending those within the Republican base who insist that America is “a Christian nation”?

The truth is, conservative Christians are currently gaga for conservative Jews. The most fundamentalist Christians see strong support for Jewish Israel as a Biblical pact that America must uphold. In my own research, I’ve found that right-wing Christians are more supportive of Israeli settlements in the West Bank than are American Jews.

A Cantor selection could thus be an unusual but effective way to shore up Romney’s support with a vital base element of the GOP. And Cantor has checked all the required ideological boxes that will hurt some of his competitors. He’s got a 100 percent pro-life rating from the National Right to Life Committee, and an A rating from the National Rifle Association.

And unlike many others Romney is considering, Cantor wasn’t part of the disastrous Bush presidency, so he’s untainted by association with a damaged brand. Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio only wishes he could say as much. When we was Representative Portman, he served as "facilitator" between the House and the George W. Bush White House.

A final reason to pick Cantor has to do with governing. A president Romney, who now brags that he’s never served in Washington, might want to know how things get done come January 2013. It won’t hurt him to have by his side someone who has served in Congress for more than a decade.

So will Romney pick Cantor? It seems unlikely at this point. But he deserves to be in the great mentioning game, and it would be the smartest pick.

Jeremy D. Mayer is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University where he also directs the masters program in public policy.

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