WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Get used to these names: Gov. Susanna Martinez of New Mexico, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. One of these women could potentially be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate.
The presumptive Republican nominee is hoping to score big with women come November, but it appears he has a long way to go. A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that female voters prefer President Obama to Romney by 54 percent to 39 percent.
That “gender gap” helped carry Obama over Sen. John McCain in the 2008 election.
To help close that gap, Romney could potentially pick a female running mate, but one that likely won’t be as controversial as Sarah Palin was four years ago.
“The Republican Party wants to have some tremendous depth and a good part of that depth are the potential women candidates,” Kevin O’Neill, deputy chairman of the Public Policy Department at Patton Boggs, told CBSDC.
One name on that list is South Carolina’s Haley, who backed Romney early — a move which could garner some favoritism from his camp.
“She was an early supporter of Romney in a critical state at a critical time,” O’Neill said.
She also ended up endorsing Romney despite being a Tea Party darling during her gubernatorial run.
“Her willingness to sort of break ranks with the Sarah Palin tea party movement in order to endorse Romney at the right time, which was not just jumping on a bandwagon but sticking her neck out, certainly makes her attractive to Romney,” Donald Aiesi, Furman University political science professor, told The Greenville News.
Another contender on the short-list is Ayotte, who won the Senate seat in 2010 after serving as New Hampshire’s attorney general for five years. She was another one who threw her support behind Romney early in the primary season.
“As a senator, she in short order has really made a mark for herself, but also been really responsive and accessible to the community,” Rich Killion, Romney’s 2008 New Hampshire primary strategist, told The Republican.
She is a favorite among the GOP for opposing government spending and the president’s health care law, but what could hurt her is being from the same geographic location as Romney.
“Many times conventional wisdom says you should not have your vice presidential candidate from the same geographical area,” O’Neill said.
Ayotte has also said she would not seek the vice presidential nomination.
O’Neill said his top female candidate is New Mexico’s Martinez, a popular Hispanic governor in a swing state.
“She’s a fresh new face of Republican politics who won a competitive race in a competitive state,” O’Neill said. “The combination of being from a battleground state, experience in the energy sector and having some appeal to the demographic groups does make her the best vice presidential contender.”
Martinez, who is the first female governor of New Mexico and the first Hispanic female governor in the United States, defeated former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish in 2010. Martinez has previously stated that she would not consider jumping into the vice presidential mix.
“I can’t do this halfway and jump into something else. It would distract from what we have to do here,” Martinez told the Albuquerque Journal.
A potential drawback for each of these top women candidates would be their lack of experience in Washington, since all were elected in 2010. Many pundits agree the Republican Party does not want another Palin experience this time around.
“I think the Republican Party learned a lesson from the Sarah Palin nomination last time about nominating somebody who is perceived as not ready to be president of the United States, whatever other strengths they might bring,” Fergus Cullen, former New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman, told The Republic. “I do not expect the party is going to nominate somebody with that little experience again.”
Another issue that could come up is these women are not well-known nationally.
“For all three of them, you get folks known at the political level but not nationally,” O’Neill told CBSDC. “The party can define them but opponents can also define them for you.”
But in the end, it’s all about who Romney will have the best chance with on the campaign trail.
“Gov. Romney is going to land on who will have the experience and chemistry,” O’Neill said.
Other potential candidates on the male side have included Ohio Gov. Rob Portman, Floria Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.