Elections

For VP, Trump must choose the unpopular or the unknown

Who could, should or won't be Trump's veep

It's time to start talking seriously about potential running mates for Donald Trump. But who wants to join the Donald in what many see as the party's sinking ship?
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It's time to start talking seriously about potential running mates for Donald Trump. But who wants to join the Donald in what many see as the party's sinking ship?

Donald Trump has a quandary as he considers several experienced politicians as his vice presidential running mate.

Two of them – Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – are widely known and widely popular inside the Republican Party. But they are also widely unpopular to the rest of the country, particularly minorities, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

And two – Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama – are little known. That suggests they’d have plenty of room to grow in a summer and fall campaign – but also could be vulnerable to Democratic ads seeking to define them on unfavorable terms.

A fifth potential candidate, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, also was largely unfamiliar to voters. She signaled after the poll started that she’s no longer interested.

“Christie and Gingrich have popularity within the GOP, but that’s not in and of itself a formula for success in November, in terms of broadening support,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the nationwide poll.

Trump is conducting a public vice presidential search, giving potential candidates a chance to audition on the campaign trail. He will campaign Tuesday with Pence in Indiana. He campaigned Monday in Virginia with Christie, who endorsed Trump soon after dropping his own bid for the Republican nomination. He campaigned with Gingrich last week in Ohio.

Christie is well known to much of the country. But just 34 percent of voters see him favorably while 50 percent do not like him.

He is popular with Republicans, who have a favorable opinion of him by a rate of 58-29. Conservatives are a little more wary, seeing him favorably by 48-33.

The good news ends there. Independents dislike him by 52-27; Democrats by 66-23. White voters have an unfavorable view of him by 45-40, and nonwhite voters by a lopsided 61-23.

Gingrich also is generally unpopular to a general election audience, with 33 percent having a favorable view of him and 53 percent having an unfavorable opinion.

Republicans do like him, by 62-23. Conservatives, too, by 58-29.

But independents dislike him by 56-29; Democrats by 73-13. White voters have an unfavorable view by 48-39; nonwhite voters by 60-24.

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Trump assured the audience in Ohio that Gingrich, who has become an informal Trump campaign adviser, would have a position in a Trump administration.

“I’m not saying anything, and I’m not telling even Newt anything, but I can tell you, in one form or another, Newt Gingrich is going to be involved with our government,” Trump said. “That I can tell you.”

Trump later teased: “I’m not saying it’s Newt, but if it is Newt, nobody’s going to be beating him in those debates,” Trump said.

Pence is a blank slate to 56 percent of voters. Even in the Midwest, where he’s been elected to Congress and has served as governor, 58 percent still have never heard of him.

If he were chosen, his strongest support, at least initially, would come from tea party supporters, who like him by 27-17, and conservatives, who see him favorably by 19-14.

Pence’s relative anonymity gives him room to grow, Miringoff said, in comparison to Christie and Gingrich, who already are well known to most voters.

“With Pence, there’s not much name recognition at all, which is sometimes an advantage in that you can frame yourself in ways you want to,” he said. “Christie and Gingrich are well known and not well liked outside of the party. That’s a lot of baggage for them.”

Sessions, a Trump confidante, is better known, but just barely. Nearly half of voters, 49 percent, have never heard of him. Even in the South, 46 percent do not know who he is.

Tea party supporters like him by 34-19; conservatives by 25-17.

Trump is expected to pick a vice presidential candidate ahead of the Republican National Convention, which opens next Monday in Cleveland.

He has said he wants someone with legislative experience to help him get his agenda through Congress, but is also said to be looking at two former military generals, retired Army Lt. General Michael Flynn, who served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Stanley McChrystal, who retired after President Obama relieved him as the top commander in Afghanistan following critical remarks he made in a Rolling Stone interview.

Neither was tested in the poll, which was started before their names were widely discussed.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

Methodology

This survey of 1,249 adults was conducted July 5-9, 2016 by The Marist Poll sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the contiguous United States were contacted on landline or mobile numbers and interviewed in English by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were randomly selected by first asking for the youngest male. This landline sample was combined with respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. After the interviews were completed, the two samples were combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey 1-year estimates for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. There are 1,053 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.

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