She Knows How to Beat Obama

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Romano

Why the country's first Latina governor might be Mitt's best veep pick.

Unless you happen to live near vast stretches of sand, sagebrush, and adobe, chances are you have no idea who Susana Martinez is. That's a pity, because she may be the boldest, savviest vice-presidential pick Mitt Romney could make.

Consider Romney's vulnerabilities. He trails Barack Obama by as many as 56 percentage points among Latinos. Women prefer the president by roughly 20 points. Conservatives still distrust him, and populists in both parties suspect that he likes to fire people. New Mexico's Martinez, the first Latina governor in U.S. history, would help as much as any running mate conceivably could. Within minutes of meeting me in Santa Fe one morning last month, she is speaking Spanish, reminiscing about the .357 Magnum she acquired at age 18, and describing her family's mom-and-pop security business back in El Paso, Texas.

Still, it isn't until a few hours later, when we arrive at Albuquerque's Mission Avenue Elementary School, that Martinez demonstrates precisely how potent a sidekick she could be. By now, everyone knows that Romney tends to act like a malfunctioning automaton around real people. Martinez, who has stopped by to read aloud If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, is different. A compact 52-year-old with a bronze bob, black jeans, and a cropped black motorcycle jacket, she gently restores order every time the kids stand, squirm, squeal, or inch into the circle for a better view of the titular mouse and his hilarious milk mustache. And when she spots one glum little girl sitting off to the side by herself, she makes a point of getting her involved.

"Do you want to help me with my book?" Martinez asks. The girl glances up through her dark bangs. After a few seconds, she nods. "Tell me your whole name," Martinez says.

"Mackenzie ... Slagle."

"Well, Mackenzie," the governor says. "I'm going to read from this book, and sometimes reading sideways is hard. So I need you to help me." Mackenzie smiles--and scoots to Martinez's side.

It's hardly the sort of thing that should earn someone a spot on the GOP ticket. Then again, it is also exactly the sort of thing--being spontaneous, connecting with another human life form--that Romney can never seem to pull off by himself.

The question now is whether Romney, who pledged in January to consider Martinez for his cabinet and "some other positions as well," will be wise enough to keep his promise--and whether, if offered, Martinez will be ambitious enough to accept.

To thrive in the years ahead, Republicans must do a better job of appealing to three kinds of people: women, Latinos, and Westerners. Simply put, the GOP needs to become less of a Mitt Romney party and more of a Susana Martinez party.

The trend lines tell the tale. Over the next 40 years, America's Latino population is projected to triple in size, to 133 million, making it the fastest-growing source of potential votes in the country. Unfortunately, Republicans have been shedding Latino support in recent years: last time around, John McCain lost Latinos by 36 percentage points, roughly double George W. Bush's previous margin of defeat. As the GOP veers further and further to the right on immigration, the chances of closing that gap will only dwindle.

Women are also shying away from Republicans. The main reason Obama beat McCain by 13 percentage points among female voters is that he won unmarried, working, and highly educated types by double digits--groups that are growing as a percentage of the population. In contrast, the female voters who tend to support Republicans--married, stay-at-home, non-college-educated women--have been losing market share for decades. If candidates like Romney continue to rely on white Southern men for support--Democrats are also gaining ground in the booming Sun Belt and Mountain West regions--they will find it harder and harder to compete. …