Romney Keeps Hand Hidden On Running Mate Pick

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stumped in Pennsylvania on Monday, ahead of the state’s primary election. One thing he wasn’t talking about, however, was his decision on a running mate.

All that Romney has said is that he’s appointed a longtime aide to handle the process, but that they haven’t had a discussion of putting together a list or evaluating various candidates.

Romney and his campaign team might not have had that discussion yet, but just about everyone else in politics certainly has.

There is no formula for picking a running mate, but some of the names floating around now might help Romney win an important state (Ohio Sen. Rob Portman), or reach out to a key voting group (Florida Sen. Marco Rubio).

Romney is working hard to win over the conservative activists who weren’t with him in the primaries. He gave a big speech at the NRA this month and is scheduled to speak at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University next month.

There’s been surprisingly little pressure now on Romney to pick a recognized, social conservative as vice president, like a Rick Santorum or a Mike Huckabee.

Gary Bauer, a social conservative leader and one-time Republican presidential candidate, says that’s because there’s no one on Romney’s short list that conservatives would reject. He says the bottom line for Romney is: “Don’t blow it.”

“I don’t see anybody being mentioned who is wrong on the values issues, who is wrong on the need for a strong national defense [or] who is questionable on the size of government,” Bauer says. “When [John] McCain ran, there were some people being mentioned that were pro-choice on the abortion issue … and there was a collective sigh of relief when he went with Sarah Palin. I don’t see that now.”

Four years ago, McCain wanted to run with his friend Sen. Joe Lieberman, who as Bauer points out, supported abortion rights. The base wouldn’t have it. McCain was also running behind Barack Obama at the time, and the idea was to create a dynamic moment in the campaign with the choice of Alaska Gov. Palin.

“We were behind, we made decisions under political pressure and I think that there [are] a lot of lessons to be learned from that,” says Steven Schmidt, McCain’s top strategist at the time.

Schmidt says the circumstances for Romney are much better and he’s more competitive financially and politically than McCain was at this time four years ago.

“We were so desperate to come up with a way to win, and you know that led to the picking of Gov. Palin,” he says. “When you look at the Romney campaign right now, I think that the lessons from 2008 won’t be lost on them. They’ll run a very, very tight process, and the result will be … someone who is ready and universally recognized as ready to be commander in chief from day one.”

That’s the most important thing about choosing a running mate, whether Romney wants that person to help him win a state, an ethnic group, or reinforce his own brand.

Veterans of vice-president vetting say it is a mistake to overdo the political calculations, and the most important qualification for a vice presidential candidate is a closet free of skeletons and the ability to do the job — of president — at a moments notice.

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