Romney begins vetting veep picks

Mitt Romney’s campaign has begun vetting running mates, a process that will narrow his list of possible veep picks.

The team for Beth Myers, the Romney adviser leading the search for the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, has already contacted potential running mates, according to a source close to the Romney campaign.

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By beginning the process early, the Romney camp hopes to avoid the mistake of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, when that campaign found itself unprepared for the onslaught of public attention that greeted Sarah Palin.

But, when asked directly by The Hill, three of the top candidates on the shortlist — Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — declined to comment on the process. 

“I’m not going to talk about the process,” said Rubio. “When they make a choice, I’m sure it’s going to be a great choice.”

Portman said, “I respect him and his process and I’m not going to talk about it.” 

Ryan said, “I’m not getting into it.”

 And one thought to be on the list said he hasn’t been contacted at all. 

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who early in the cycle was considered a presidential possibility, said he had not been contacted by anyone on Romney’s vetting team. 

To make it through the process, say past contenders, politicians hoping for a place on Romney’s ticket will face the most intensive scrutiny of their lives.

Nothing is off limits: not old college papers, voting records, tax returns, children, spouses or former spouses.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who ran with Al Gore on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2000 and was vetted by McCain’s team, said his colleagues are in for an uncomfortable probing. 

“During the Gore vettings, somebody said to me, ‘It’s like having a colonoscopy without painkillers,’ ” said Lieberman. 

Lieberman said one Democratic adviser suggested that he sit down with his wife and tell her, “If there’s anything about your past I don’t know, tell me now.”

“I heard they had gone back and read editorials I had written for the Yale Daily News in 1963,” he said. “They asked very explicit questions.”

Jamie Gorelick, who handled Lieberman’s vetting for the Gore campaign, said she spent about 18 hours asking him questions and reviewing various issues. 

She also spoke with his wife, his ex-wife and his children. 

“We read every article that he wrote for the Yale Daily News. We read every opinion that his office published when he was attorney general of Connecticut. We read every book and article, every speech he gave. We looked at every bill he sponsored and co-sponsored and reviewed his voting record generally. We reviewed all his tax returns,” said Gorelick. 

The McCain campaign thoroughly reviewed Lieberman’s record again in 2008. McCain, however, switched tracks shortly before the convention in Minnesota and picked Palin, giving his vetting team little time to review her record. 

The late-breaking decision put McCain’s team in an awkward position. His campaign aides had to scramble to investigate her background to keep a step ahead of the media.

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Romney is determined not to repeat that mistake. That means giving his vetting team plenty of time to review the records of potential running mates. 

A source close to the campaign said prospects had been contacted but declined to say who had been contacted or how wide a net had been cast. 

A spokeswoman for the Romney campaign declined to comment. 

Michael S. Berman, who helped vet Geraldine Ferraro for Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign, said Romney is wise not to delay the search.

“The place where people get in trouble is when you don’t give yourself enough time,” he said. 

Berman said the questionnaires for vice presidential possibilities have grown longer and longer in recent elections, as successive campaigns learn from the oversights of their predecessors. 

The vetting process has become more intense as media coverage of the campaigns has expanded.

“That which becomes controversial has increased over time,” said Berman. “With the explosion of news sources, a little nothing can be turned into something.

“You can’t afford to have your campaign interrupted by having to deal with these things,” said Berman. “Almost everything is fair game this day and age.” 

Some potential running mates have spared themselves from the scrutiny by pulling their names out of contention. 

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) removed himself from consideration well before then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) tapped then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) as his running mate in 2008.

Webb, however, said that fear of the vetting process was not his primary concern. 

“I just didn’t have any interest in being vice president, it’s as simple as that,” he said. 

Rubio, Portman and Ryan all appear more eager for a chance to join the Republican ticket. 

All endorsed Romney before he locked up the nomination, and have helped his campaign in various ways. 

Rubio campaigned with Romney recently in Pennsylvania. 

Portman threw his support to Romney in January and logged time phone-banking for the candidate during the South Carolina primary and stumped for him in Ohio, where Romney scored an important win.

And Ryan gave Romney a boost by endorsing him shortly before the Wisconsin primary, where Rick Santorum fought his last stand in the GOP contest.