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How VP Forerunners Fare on Race

Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, is reportedly in the final stages of selecting a running mate.  And he reportedly is down to three candidates on his short list for the number two spot on the ticket.  They include former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  As they undergo the required vetting process, one question that remains is, what are their records on racial issues?  Their statements and policies provide some clues.

On the surface at least, Pawlenty and Portman appear to be the stereotypical “white bread” or vanilla-flavored candidates, offering little controversy or few potentially eyebrow-raising items in their resume. And little excitement as well.  Presumably, that is a good thing for the Romney camp, given the problems Sen. John McCain faced with his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the 2008 match-up with Obama and Biden.

With regard to immigration reform, an issue viewed in the Latino community as a proxy for anti-Latino sentiment, Pawlenty likened the need for immigration enforcement to New York cleaning up its streets.  “It’s analogous in some ways to what was happening in New York not long ago. If you allow people to pee on the sidewalks, next they’re snatching purses,” he said.

“I’m not one to question Obama’s birth certificate,” Pawlenty said at a Tea Party rally in Boston last year, responding to claims that the president was not born in the U.S. “But sometimes when I see his policies I wonder what planet he’s from.”

Meanwhile, Portman — a solid conservative and former Bush budget director who has been labeled as the “anti-Palin” for his temperament and wonkishness — has expressed reservations with the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.  Portman was concerned that the legislation, which would forbid employers from firing someone for their gender identity or sexual orientation, would make businesses uncomfortable and lead to too many lawsuits.  “What I’m concerned about in Paycheck Fairness and other legislation like that is the fact that it will spawn a lot of litigation the way the legislation is written,” the Senator said. Although he Portman said no one should discriminate, he worried that the legislation “would make it more difficult for employers to feel comfortable.”

Meanwhile, Bobby Jindal — despite his lackluster performance countering the president’s 2009 State of the Union-type address on the economy — provides the most colorful presentation in terms of ethnic background and record.  Jindal also appears to offer the most problematic vice presidential candidacy of these three frontrunners on racial issues.  The first Indian-American governor, Jindal is, not unlike South Carolina Gov.  Nikki Haley, who is of Sikh descent, a poster child for the Republican Party’s vision of a post-racial conservative America.  And as such, they would downplay their racial background and espouse the policies of white conservatives in order to ascend the ranks of the GOP.

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