For a candidate who has attracted attention this campaign for switching from business suits to Gap jeans, Mitt Romney faces repeated suggestions that he needs to pick a vice presidential candidate who can add some sizzle to the Republican presidential ticket.
Paul Ryan, the “young gun” Wisconsin Republican who authored a budget plan endearing him to conservatives, is the latest name to bubble up.
But some of those who have been down the path before say Romney’s race against President Obama is too close to merit anything beyond a plain vanilla selection.
“We won’t be the last campaign to make a high-risk choice in dire circumstances, but we’ll be the last for a while,” said Steve Schmidt, who as a senior aide urged John McCain to pick Sarah Palin in 2008 before regretting the decision.
Unlike four years ago, Schmidt said, Romney is running close to even with Obama and the Democrats.
‘Young Gun’ cred, but also controversy
And Palin’s implosion puts even more pressure on the presumptive presidential nominee to choose a running mate more in the mold of Senator Rob Portman of Ohio than some political unknown like the former Alaska governor was four years ago.
“I think they will follow the admonition that the first, second, and third principles of a vice presidential pick are: Do no harm,” Schmidt said.
With Ryan, for example, Romney would have to embrace not only the boyish-looking congressman, but also the elements of his budget plan — including its hotly contested proposal to privatize the Medicare program.
Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign when the Republican nominee picked political veteran Jack Kemp as his running mate, said, “I think Romney needs to pick a safe, strong conservative that is going to help him both in the Electoral College and with governing.”
While Reed would not name names, he agreed with Schmidt that the true pool of strong candidates is very small.
Not only do they have to be able to withstand a media vetting, they also have to be personally compatible with 65-year-old Romney, share his economic vision, and satisfy the GOP’s base by being abortion opponents.
Portman, 56, fills that bill as a former member of the House, a member of George W. Bush’s administration, and current US senator. He is also from Ohio, a swing state with 18 electoral votes that no Republican candidate has ever lost en route to winning the presidency.
Ryan comes from another swing state, but Wisconsin offers just 10 electoral votes. The 42-year-old is also largely untested on the national stage, despite his work as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Among others who appear to remain under consideration are former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
None is among the list of speakers for the Republican National Convention that has already been announced, but Romney said the list may be deceptive.
“You don’t think that we would be so silly as to not provide, from time to time, the capacity to throw people off, do you?” Romney told Fox News.
The Republicans are gathering in Tampa for their convention on Aug. 27, and there is still a sharp divide about the timing of Romney’s announcement.
Romney has had only two public events this week, in Illinois on Tuesday and Iowa on Wednesday.
He is not scheduled to reemerge in public until Saturday, when he kicks off a bus tour in Virginia. It will also stop in North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio over four days, a trip through swing states that could be ready-made for unveiling a running mate.
Former Bush political strategist Karl Rove told Fox News Tuesday that he thought Romney was “close to a decision,” with an announcement as early as Friday to coincide with the bus tour.
Yet Rove also said, “My gut tells me, though, that it’s more likely to come next week,” perhaps after the tour. During that trip, Romney will be joined in Virginia by Governor Bob McDonnell, another possible running mate, as well as Rubio in Florida and Portman in Ohio.
It could offer a final chance for Romney to size up a potential running mate.
Others think Romney would be wise to wait until the week of Aug. 20 for his announcement — and then repeat the swing-state trip with the nominee.
The Romney campaign has done as much as it can to stoke speculation without confirming details about its review process or inadvertently revealing its choice.
It has released a smartphone app so supporters can receive the first official word about the selection. Campaign manager Matt Rhoades also announced a contest in which donors have a chance to meet Romney and his eventual partner.
On Wednesday, Romney’s wife, Ann, took to Twitter to urge people to sign up for the app.
“Mitt’s choice for VP will be announced soon,” she tweeted.
Yet her husband laughed off reporters who asked him about Portman and Pawlenty as Romney shopped Monday in Wolfeboro, N.H.
Senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom branded it “my least favorite subject” to discuss, though he was clear in saying that Romney would be deliberative rather than whimsical with his choice.
“The number one priority is to find someone who is capable of performing the job of president if circumstances ever call for it. After that, you want someone who is compatible,” Fehrnstrom said in an e-mail. “Those are the most important qualities that Governor Romney is weighing as he considers this decision.”