At the town hall on CNN Wednesday night, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, let on that he's beginning the VP selection process. Of course he is; anyone with a well-organized campaign would start early, make his list, begin to vet and spend time with potential running mates. Failure to do so would be, well, as sloppy as failing to get slates of delegates elected in state contests.
Cruz was quite complimentary in the town hall toward a former rival, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. He said, "He would be someone you'd be a fool not to look at seriously. He's very, very talented." Cruz was even more effusive, saying, "He ran a campaign that inspired millions of people. It inspired me." That might have been diplomatic as he seeks to unify the party or tactical as he goes looking for delegates. He might also be seriously considering Rubio.
Taking a step back, it is worth considering what kind of VP Cruz wants or needs. There are four categories from which to choose.
First are those running mates who could help him get the nomination. In 1976, Ronald Reagan tapped Sen. Richard Schweiker, R-Pa., in hopes of roping in the Pennsylvania delegation. (It didn't work.) For Cruz, that might mean picking someone with delegates (Rubio has 172, still more than Ohio Gov. John Kasich does), although any candidate's ability to "deliver" his delegates once they become unbound is limited. Alternatively, Cruz might pick someone who could win over a critical delegation. Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina (which has 50 delegates) fits the bill.
Second are VPs who the candidate hopes could deliver a critical state in the general election. This really has not worked out since JFK tapped LBJ in 1960. Since then, if a GOP candidate picked a running mate from a red state (as George W. Bush did with Dick Cheney), it was not a factor; and when he picked someone from a blue state, it did not make a difference. (Paul Ryan, now House speaker, couldn't lock down Wisconsin, for example, in 2012).
In this case, however, Cruz might get a not-insignificant lift in Ohio either from picking Kasich (whose lack of discipline might make him more trouble than he's worth) or Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who also has extensive executive branch experience as trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget. Like Joe Biden in 2008, Portman would have to run for reelection simultaneously; if he won, the governor would appoint someone of the same party to fill his seat.
The third group of VP possibilities consists of candidates who balance a ticket, providing more experience and/or expertise in a policy area such as national security (Biden, Cheney). For Cruz, that might mean an experienced governor such as former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty or former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who also is a veteran of the executive branch and would reassure establishment Republicans. Current Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (previously a congressman) is also held in high regard among a broad array of Republicans. Unfortunately, because they are from the same state, Cruz could not pick an obvious "balancing" running mate, former governor Rick Perry, who has loads of executive experience and a military record. A different kind of "balance" for Cruz would be a woman, Carly Fiorina, Haley or New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. He has already campaigned extensively with Fiorina, and the two seem to genuinely like each other.
The last group of potential VPs would be those who reinforce the image of the presidential nominee, as Al Gore did for Bill Clinton in 1992, when they ran as two young moderates from the "new" South. This is where someone like Rubio (another young Sun Belt and first-generation American) would come in. Their spats over immigration would be no real barrier; whatever was said during the campaign could not compare with George H.W. Bush's crack about "voodoo economics." It did not stop him from being Reagan's VP in 1980.
If a VP candidate can help with the nomination, later assist with a state or region, and provide balance, that's even better. For Cruz, that might be Portman, Daniels, Pence or Martinez. Cruz will need to be as meticulous and thoughtful as he has been in constructing a well-oiled campaign operation. After this primary season, he would certainly want a noncontroversial, widely popular pick.