Romney looks close to naming a running mate

Thu, Jul 19, 2012, 01:00

SPECULATION continued yesterday that Mitt Romney might announce his choice of vice-presidential running mate before departing for the London Olympics and Israel next Tuesday, in the hope of steadying his floundering campaign.

The Obama campaign said the Romney team had “gone off the deep end” after John Sununu, the co-chair of Romney’s campaign, told a media conference call on Tuesday, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American”.

Sununu later apologised for the remark, which echoed ‘birther’ conspiracy theories that Obama was not born in the US. Romney compounded the damage by telling a rally in Pennsylvania that Obama’s economic polices were “extraordinarily foreign”.

Romney’s bid to paint Obama as a “crony capitalist” has fallen flat, and Republicans, as well as Democrats, are baying for Romney to release more tax returns.

By naming a vice-presidential running mate, he might restore his campaign. “There was a lot of talk. We’re not quite there yet. And we’re going to be there soon,” Ann Romney told ABC’s Good Morning America yesterday.

The appointment of a director of operations and a communications director for the future vice-presidential candidate on Tuesday strengthened conjecture that an announcement is imminent. Presidential candidates usually present their running mate just before their party’s convention, but Romney may not wait until the Republican confab starts in Tampa, Florida, on August 27th.

Since spring, he has conferred with Beth Myers, the aide he put in charge of the search for a running mate, several times weekly.

The vetting process begins with a telephone call from Romney. Candidates must answer 80 questions about themselves and their families, including “Have you ever been unfaithful?”

Their performance on television talk shows is scrutinised, and they are interviewed by a panel of lawyers. The documents they submit are stashed every night in a vault in Romney’s Boston headquarters.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, known as T-Paw, and Ohio senator Rob Portman head the putative shortlist published by the New York Times yesterday. Longshot candidates include former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Several names that long churned through the rumour mill, including New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Florida senator Marco Rubio, seem to have fallen off the list.

The first requirement is that candidates do “no harm” to the campaign. Republican strategists stress that a repeat of the Sarah Palin experience – when Senator John McCain chose an ignorant, inexperienced governor of Alaska as a running mate – must be avoided at all costs.

Such statements have angered Palin, whom the Romney campaign have so far not invited to the Tampa convention. Influential Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, say she should be allowed to speak there, to “fire up” the Tea Party base, which views Romney as the choice of the establishment.

Romney emphasises that his running mate must be qualified to be president “from day one”. He or she cannot have skeletons in the closet, and must be knowledgeable and self-confident enough to spar with Joe Biden in television debates, but not so talented or ambitious that they upstage Romney. Compatibility with the leader is an important criterion.

Ann Romney recently told CBS News her husband wanted someone “with the same personality type” that he’ll “enjoy spending time with”.

Pawlenty has an easy manner with reporters and other Republicans and is the most likeable contender for the nomination.

His working class background – his father was a truck driver – could partially offset Romney’s image as the privileged son of an auto executive, governor and cabinet secretary.

Pawlenty’s evangelical Christian faith is also a plus, because the religious right, like the fiscally conservative Tea Party, have never really trusted Romney. The only black marks against him are having once supported cap-and-trade legislation to slow climate change (“It’s a dumb idea,” he says now) and coining the word “Obamneycare” to condemn the similar healthcare plans devised by Obama and Romney. But it is doubtful T-Paw could deliver his home state of Minnesota, which has voted Democrat in presidential elections for the past 40 years.

Rob Portman, on the other hand, might deliver Ohio, without which no Republican has ever won the presidency. Portman resembles Romney more than any other vice-presidential hopeful. If he makes it onto the ticket, Stephen Colbert joked on Comedy Central, it will be “the bland leading the bland”. A former budget director under George W Bush, Portman is very familiar with budget, tax, trade and investment issues. He is such an effective debater that Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidates have long used him as a mock opponent in rehearsals.

Like Portman, Condoleezza Rice worked for the Bush administration, which Democrats accuse Romney of wanting to replicate.

As a black woman with extensive foreign policy experience, Rice would bring more excitement to the campaign than “the best boring white guy” as Portman has described himself. In opinion polls, she is streets ahead of other possible running mates. But Rice’s support for abortion rights makes her anathema to social conservatives, who have publicly warned Romney against her.