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Vice President… Fortuño

The Governor of Puerto Rico A Heartbeat Away From the Presidency?

Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno

John Adams once described it as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived.”  John Nance Garner said the it was worse than “a pitcher of warm piss.”   What office are these two distinguished politicians referring to, you might ask?  Why, that of Vice President, of course!   Indeed, the Vice President is constitutionally assigned only two tasks: to serve as President of the Senate (a non-voting member, unless there is a tie) and to succeed the President should he or she die.  Nonetheless, the position is a widely sought-after one, and many Republicans are already maneuvering to secure their name on the VP short list.

As I wrote in a November 27 post on the PoliticBlog, “Budding GOP running mates include Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Minnesota Governor and Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, South Dakota Senator John Thune, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño.”

Although few of these names will strike a chord of recognition with most voters, perhaps the most foreign (figuratively as well as literally) is the last on the list, Luis Fortuño.

Fortuño is the current Governor of Puerto Rico, as well as a member of the Republican National Committee and the Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Association.  He formerly served as the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, representing the commonwealth in Congress, and the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.  (He is also, by the way, a bona-fide US citizen like all native-born Puerto Ricans.)

Moreover, Fortuño is a rising star in a Republican Party that desperately needs to appeal to Hispanic voters.  President Obama won nearly 70 percent of Hispanics — the fastest growing voter bloc in the country — in 2008.  A poll released in November by Univision News/Latino Decisions indicates that he could beat many of his current Republican challengers by similar margins.  According to the poll, President Obama would win Hispanic voters 67 percent to 24 percent over Romney, 65 percent to 22 percent over Herman Cain and 68 percent to 21 percent over Rick Perry.

Many prominent Republican politicians and analysts are pushing the Presidential candidates to consider picking a Hispanic for VP in order to combat this trend.  Sandoval, Martinez and especially Rubio are lauded by conservatives and widely considered to be shrewd choices for the ticket. Fortuño, however, could be an exciting and interesting pick.

The first Republican Governor of Puerto Rico since 1969 is young, telegenic and personally compelling (Matt Santos, anyone?).  He has shown he can work across the aisle and appeal to Democrats and Independents in the generally left-leaning commonwealth.  Moreover, his reputation for stellar — and, of course, conservative — fiscal leadership would be a boon to the GOP.

His success in Puerto Rico has not gone unnoticed by prominent Republicans back in the continental US.  “[Fortuño] could pop up on the national level like that,” said Grover Norquist, one of Washington’s most powerful lobbyists, snapping his fingers.  “I’m very impressed with both his presentation and what he’s accomplished so far.”

Former Republican Congressman (and Libertarian Presidential nominee) Bob Barr agreed, describing Fortuño on his blog as “Puerto Rico’s miracle man.”  “Although Fortuño is still largely unknown outside Puerto Rico,” wrote Barr, “the phenomenal successes he already has achieved to bring the island’s previously sour economy back to life, is certain to raise his reputation and his image nationally — as well it should.”

“How do you spell ‘success’ in politics?  How might you spell ‘future’ for the GOP?  Same answer to both questions — ‘Fortuño,’“ Barr concluded.

It is possible that the recent mentions of Fortuño are simply a ploy by Republicans to try and appear friendly to Hispanics, as Time’s Andrew Romano asserts.  “For Republicans, using Fortuño to fuel the eternal flame of 2012 speculation serves to make the GOP seem, at least, like a more welcoming place for Latinos — however whimsical his chances of reaching the White House [or Vice President’s mansion] currently are,” Romano wrote in 2009.

It remains exceedingly unlikely that Fortuño will receive the VP nod.  He has scant Washington knowledge and a relatively weak fundraising machine.  Additionally, he does not hail from a swing state (or even one that can vote in national elections).  And as Romano added, “A party whose base is animated in part by its opposition to illegal immigration is probably not going to ‘import’ someone, as it were, for the biggest job in the land.”

Nonetheless, Fortuño remains an appealing VP choice for many Republicans.  His candidacy, they contend, would attract Hispanics and jazz the GOP base.  Many conservatives would salivate at the chance to vote for up-and-coming Puerto Rico Governor, even — ironically — if Fortuño can’t vote for himself!

Eric Stern is a freshman in Pierson College.