Will Trump have Georgia on his mind when he picks his vice president?

The running mate will be a indicator of what the former president wants for the next four years.
Former President Donald Trump walks off of the stage after the June 17 presidential debate at CNN in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Former President Donald Trump walks off of the stage after the June 17 presidential debate at CNN in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

As the eyes of the political world focus on Milwaukee for the Republican National Convention, one big question remains: Who will former President Donald Trump pick for his running mate?

Speculation has run wild for months, and like the true showman and master of media that he is, Trump has allowed the discussion to continue and interest to build in the lead-up to his announcement. His choice of running mate will be a clear indication of his plans for the next four years and what he sees for the future of the Republican Party. But what will his choice mean for Georgia?

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Credit: Handout

Historically, the choice of running mate is seen as a way to balance the ticket, adding geographical or demographic appeal. North and South. Youth and maturity. Traditional Republican and social conservative. Some candidates try to add excitement to their brand (see Sen. John McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin), but there is no lack of enthusiasm for Trump. He has been a “brand” since before I was born, and he successfully made a red baseball cap one of the most iconic pieces of political branding in years. So if he doesn’t need enthusiasm for his brand, what should he factor into this critical decision? Georgia.

Georgia has become a must-win state. After decades in the Republican column, and frankly being taken for granted, Georgia is at the top of the list for every Republican strategist. Along with traditional swing states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, Georgia must be a factor in the selection of a vice president.

With three names seeming to emerge as the front-runners, let’s look at the appeal and impact of these three candidates in Georgia.

Sen. Marco Rubio: The Florida senator would be an easy fit for Georgia. He ran a strong campaign here in 2016, coming in second and the only candidate other than Trump to win a county in the state. Rubio won Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties and placed a strong second in Gwinnett. The areas and voters he appeals to would be the voters who split their ticket in 2020 — the very voters the GOP needs to win back in 2024. Rubio can also speak to newer voters, even though he has been in elected office since 2000. He is a known commodity, and traditional Republicans would feel comfortable with him by Trump’s side. Rubio also historically performs well with women and would be in a unique position to campaign to the emerging Latino voting block the GOP has been targeting in recent elections.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum: When Burgum announced he was running for president, like most Americans, I said, “Who?” That is the very thing that could work in his favor. His short-lived campaign was not particularly remarkable, but it gave Americans a chance to hear his name. Before entering politics and his recent rebranding as a MAGA Republican, Burgum had a successful career in the private sector. He began as a consultant before starting his own software company, which he sold to Microsoft. His tenure as governor of North Dakota went mostly under the radar, unlike his colleague just to the south, Kristi Noem of South Dakota. Though it might seem risky to choose an unknown, he is the sort of man every person living in metro Atlanta knows. We see men like him going to the office or the golf course every day. He is steady. He won’t make a splash. That’s OK. Who could make a splash when following human cannonball Trump?

Sen. J.D. Vance: Selecting the freshman senator from Ohio would be a bold play for Trump that would yield results beyond Georgia and beyond his term. There will be a massive vacuum in the Republican Party in 2028. By choosing Vance, Trump would signal the direction he thinks the party should take when he is no longer leading it. In Vance, we have a new kind of Republican. He doesn’t just talk about tax cuts and limiting the size of government; he also talks about policies that would help the middle class. His focus is on the people who often feel forgotten by the political establishment and “coastal elites.” These are the people he comes from and to whom he speaks. His blue-collar background would have significant appeal in must-win Rust Belt states. Though the other two options would be an effort to weaken the blue counties, Vance would be a play to the right. Trump would be counting on Vance to drive up numbers in red counties. If the target voter for Rubio and Burgum is the split-ticket voter of 2020, the target voter for Vance is the voter who stayed home in the Georgia’s 2020 Senate runoffs and the 2022 midterms.

With his vice presidential pick, Trump will let voters know what he wants for the next four years: a known commodity, a quiet understudy or a leader who can carry the torch into 2028 and beyond?

Trump will let us know what he thinks in a week.

Georgians will tell us what they think in November.

Katie Frost, an Atlanta-based GOP strategist, is chair of the 3rd District Georgia Republican Party.