Mitt Romney's VP pick is not just a matter of who, but when

When Mitt Romney picks his running mate could be as important as who he picks, according to senior Republican strategists — and the jury’s out on what would be best for his campaign.

Some argue Romney should wait as long as possible to see how the race shakes out and make the biggest splash with his choice, while others say an early decision would help him with fundraising and earned media. Plus, it would give the former Massachusetts governor a surrogate who can attack President Obama while allowing Romney to stay above the fray.

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One top Romney fundraiser told The Hill he hoped the presumptive GOP nominee would take his time.

“I’d like them to drag it out as long as possible — the more he drags it out the more press he gets and the more press he gets the better people get to know him,” said the fundraiser, who asked not to be named in order to speak candidly. 

“Knowing Mitt Romney,” the fundraiser continued, “he’ll make a very careful judgment, get to know each person very well, and when he’s out there in the field see how he interacts with them … it’s going to be a very deliberate process and he’s going to come up with a very high-quality selection. When you’re a business executive you’re used to recruiting.”

Since 1976, all but one of the 10 presidential nominees publicly announced his running mate within a week of the party’s convention.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) announced then-Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) would be his vice presidential running mate in early July — but even that was only three weeks ahead of the Democratic National Convention.

The Republican National Convention this cycle will take place the last week of August, more than a month later than it has been in some years, meaning an announcement shortly before the convention would give Romney less time with a top surrogate by his side. 

Some argue the longer general election combined with the demands of an ever-expanding 24-hour news cycle and fundraising duties means Romney should break with tradition and make a pick earlier than is standard.

Brad Blakeman, who served as senior staffer for former President George W. Bush, said that Romney should announce his choice in June. 

“If we stick to tradition over reality we make a mistake — right now we’re fighting with one hand tied behind our back,” he told The Hill.

Blakeman argued that making a vice presidential pick soon would give the campaign “two moving targets to hit instead of just one” and counter the two-pronged attack Obama and Vice President Biden currently can launch. 

“You need to use every weapon in your arsenal. To roll the dice at the convention and leave Romney to be beaten up as the sole person out there the next few months is a big mistake,” he said. “Why not use [a vice presidential candidate] to your best advantage to raise money, generate news and excitement? A normal surrogate just can’t do that.”

Romney is known to be a risk-averse politician, and a number of Republicans have mentioned 2008 nominee Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) brief and sloppy vetting of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as a cautionary tale.

But Blakeman argued that after a thorough vetting process, an early pick could actually help avoid the pitfalls of late-breaking bad news on a vice presidential candidate’s background.

“Get it out early, let the press pick apart your nominee and try to influence that as long as you can,” he said.

The former Massachusetts governor seems to be taking the slower route, while his campaign announced Beth Myers, a close ally, will head the search for his running mate. The campaign has been very tight-lipped about the process and declined to discuss it with The Hill.

A number of politicians thought to be on Romney’s short list have been brought out with him on the campaign trail in what appear to be test runs. 

Romney most recently stumped with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in Pennsylvania on Monday, and in past weeks has also been on the campaign trail with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). 

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has consistently worked hard for Romney since he dropped out of the presidential race, serving as campaign co-chairman, and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) both stumped with Romney during the early-state primaries. 

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) said the slow route was for the best.

“I would advise him to not decide until the middle of August — you have more time to see what the developments are on the ground, to understand what’s the best [electoral] path to follow,” Barbour told reporters on Thursday. “I think it’s way, way too early to be able to even decide which path is the right path, much less who is the right person. And the good news is, he doesn’t have to.”

Barbour paraphrased advice from Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to “never make a political decision until you have to because that’s when you’ll have the most information that you’re going to get,” and ripped the press corps for focusing on who Romney will pick so early.

“I think that anybody who’s talking about vice president, Romney ought to do this or Romney ought to do that, should shut up,” he said. “Nobody cares but y’all.”