Balancing the Ticket: Analyzing the Current State of the 2016 Race

If the current frontrunners of the Republican and Democratic primaries continue their winning-streaks to become the actual nominees, I believe a general election map today would look something like this:

It would be a nail-biter; much closer than what most polls are currently predicting. Trump’s resounding primary victory in Florida and his history there points to a stronghold for him in this crucial swing state. It then becomes crucial for Hillary to out-perform in places like Virginia, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

But there is a major variable that is not being factored in the map above: the VP nominees. Running mates are typically chosen to “balance the ticket” geographically, demographically, and politically. Older moderate conservative Governor from a Northeaster state at the top of the ticket? Pick a young far-right Midwestern Representative as a running mate (see Romney/Ryan 2012). Older, experienced, moderate conservative male Senator for President? Young, exciting, far-right conservative woman for VP (see McCain/Palin ‘08).

VP nominees fill the gaps where they’re needed most, and who they pick as running mates will be one of, if not the most critical decision Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will make this year.

What Hillary Needs

Exit polls during the Democratic primaries have told a very consistent story: people below the age of 35 aren’t excited about a Hillary presidency. If she gets the nomination, Hillary must be able to reconnect with that audience, and her VP pick may be able to do that more effectively on her behalf.

Hispanic voters will also play a big role in 2016. Trump has done a tremendous job of alienating the Hispanic community from the moment he stepped on the stage in 2015. And he has done that by embracing many white voters in border states concerned about illegal immigration. If Hillary (or her running mate) can rally the Hispanic communities in key states like New Mexico, Texas, and Florida, she’ll have a much better shot at the White House.

Lastly, Hillary has failed to really capture the excitement and imagination of Democratic voters this cycle. Hillary has a tremendous amount of experience in public office, and is uniquely equipped to handle foreign policy, but tends to falter when it comes to domestic policy, especially around the financial sector.

So, what does Hillary need from a running mate? A young, exciting, progressive Hispanic Democrat from a southern state.

Meet Secretary Julián Castro:

Secretary of HUD Julián Castro

Secretary Castro is the 41-year old Cabinet Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, previously the Mayor of San Antonio, Texas. He is a rising star of the Democratic Party (he delivered the Keynote speech during the 2012 Democratic National Convention!) and has already been hitting the campaign trail for Hillary. Keep your eyes on this guy.

What Trump Needs

Donald Trump is a political anomaly. He has proved every political pundit wrong over the last 7 months. My guess is as good as yours, which at this point is as good as anybody’s about what Donald Trump might do next. But, if we try to apply traditional political thinking to his path to the White House (which has proven wrong each time during this cycle), he needs to think seriously about female voters.

Donald Trump is incredibly unpopular with women, as beautifully (and I’m guessing jokingly) illustrated by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver in this tweet:

He also happens to have zero experience in public office, which usually wouldn’t play well with the voters, but in 2016, it seems to be pretty much the only thing the voters are interested in: electing an outsider.

During one of his more coherent moments, Donald Trump has openly stated that he will look for someone that could help him with “government” as a running mate.

So, what does Donald Trump need from a running mate? A slightly more experienced (but still contrarian) conservative woman.

There are a number of women that fit that profile, but it’s much harder to make a specific prediction on this one.

There’s someone like Sarah Palin, who has some experience as Governor and former VP candidate, and is very popular amongst conservative women. That being said, I find it very hard to believe that anyone involved (Trump, the GOP, even Palin herself) would ever be willing to sign-on for another Palin VP run.

There’s Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina. Like Secretary Castro, Governor Haley has proven to be a rising star of the Republican Party. She’s young, exciting, and comes from a family of immigrants. Governor Haley endorsed Marco Rubio, and while I think she would’ve accepted the VP spot without missing a beat if it were offered to her by Rubio or even Kasich, I have doubts that she would be comfortable riding shotgun with Donald Trump at the wheel.

Finally, there’s Jan Brewer, the former Governor of Arizona. She’s an extremely conservative politician that has already gained some national name recognition. She has openly and enthusiastically endorsed Trump, and seems to be the most viable of the options listed here.

In Short…

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are on track to become two of the most politically polarizing figures in recent history to clinch their party’s nomination. By making the right VP choice, they can begin to bring their parties together, and more importantly, to their polling places.