Vice presidential fever struck Republicans Monday as Mitt Romney’s visit with Bobby Jindal in Louisiana fueled speculation about who would get the number two spot on the ticket and whether that announcement could come in the next few days.
Romney’s campaign has two remaining windows for announcing the pick. The first extends until the end of next week, when he is scheduled to depart for the Summer Olympics in London and visits to Israel and Poland. He is not slated to return to the United States until July 31.
Romney’s second window opens around Aug. 12, when the media dominance of the Olympics ends, children in many parts of the country head back to school, and the Republican Party gears up for its national nominating convention in Tampa, which runs from Aug. 27 through Aug. 30.
Revealing the choice of a running mate, often considered the first presidential-level decision of a nominee’s campaign, could invigorate Romney’s campaign much the way the selection of Sarah Palin briefly electrified John McCain’s candidacy four years ago.
Or, as with George W. Bush’s choice of Dick Cheney in 2000, it would be perceived more neutrally — designed to do no harm to Romney’s unfolding showdown with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
In recent conversations, senior aides were reluctant to speculate on the probable choice, but one raised Jindal, governor of Louisiana, unprompted before also praising the former Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty; Senator John Thune of South Dakota; and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Romney was in Louisiana and Mississippi for fund-raisers and private meetings, but a top aide said he and Jindal did not discuss the vice presidency.
Pawlenty, meanwhile, was the subject of a profile Monday in The New York Times, which reported that friends believe Romney has already settled on his choice.
Senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, traveling with a Romney press pool on the Gulf Coast, said, “No decision has been made on VP,” but he fanned speculation by stating that an announcement could come this week. His statements pierced a cone of silence that has largely enveloped the vetting process since April, when Romney put top aide Beth Myers in charge of the search.
There are other hints that this week could be the time for Romney’s announcement.
He is starting a two-day swing through two battleground states, stopping on Tuesday outside Pittsburgh in Irwin, Pa., and then Wednesday in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Irwin is a short drive from Ohio, and Bowling Green is home to Senator Rob Portman, who has been an active Romney surrogate and has long been considered a leading choice for his running mate.
Portman’s background as a former House member, Bush administration trade representative, and Office of Management and Budget chief gives him strong financial and political credentials, dovetailing with Romney’s key campaign theme of economic competence.
In addition, the 56-year-old Dartmouth College graduate is said to be a favorite of the Bush family, who have come out one after another to endorse Romney.
The Romney campaign knows well that no Republican nominee has won the presidency without claiming Ohio and its lode of 18 electoral votes. And Pennsylvania is a classic swing state with its own bounty of 20 electoral votes.
Romney’s visit to each state would draw maximum attention were he to be accompanied by his freshly minted running mate — especially if it were a local figure such as Portman.
The news surrounding the choice would also help change the media narrative after last week’s reports about whether Romney actually left Bain Capital before some of the company’s investments led to layoffs or bankruptcies.
In 2004, Democratic nominee John F. Kerry brought his campaign to Pittsburgh before revealing the next day at an event in the city that he had selected John Edwards as his running mate.
This week, the Romney campaign increased staffing for its battleground visits, bringing on former national press secretary Kevin Madden to assist with the traveling press corps.
Romney’s schedule for the remainder of the week has not been publicly announced, though he is expected to be back in Boston Thursday.
That could be a prelude to a weekend launch, or provide Romney and the new nominee the chance to catch their breath, engage in a requisite series of sitdown interviews for weekend use, and then head out again for several days next week before Romney leaves for Europe.
Announcing his pick during the first window of opportunity would also give Romney a surrogate campaigner domestically while he is overseas. With the spotlight focused on the Olympics and Romney’s travels, the vice presidential nominee would have the opportunity to practice his or her stump speech before sizable audiences but without the full media glare.
Choosing a running mate during the second window would give Romney a more traditional launch to the final phase of the general election campaign. It would build enthusiasm as delegates head to the Republican National Convention.
It would also minimize the window of media scrutiny on the vice presidential pick, which one Romney aide once likened to “solar glare.”
Romney was unusually quiet this past weekend, even though he just finished a vacation during the Fourth of July week and there are only 112 days to go until Election Day.
He spent Saturday and Sunday at his home on Wolfeboro, N.H., appearing at one point in full view of photographers on Lake Winnipesaukee but in a dress shirt and jeans — far from the casual shorts and T-shirts of his vacation week. He was seen reading off his iPad and checking his cellphone.
The Romney campaign passed up a prime campaign opportunity, a NASCAR race nearby in Loudon, N.H.
Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.