By Justin Sink - 08/08/12 04:17 PM EDT
Mitt Romney’s campaign hopes to give itself a huge boost in the next two weeks as anticipation builds for the GOP vice presidential pick.
The flavor of the day Wednesday was House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who rose back into consideration on the heels of a series of blog posts by prominent conservative commentator Bill Kristol. The Washington Post and National Journal both published stories weighing the pros and cons of the polarizing Wisconsin lawmaker, but the flash of speculation dissipated somewhat after Ryan announced a week-long family camping trip to Colorado starting Sunday. Vacations can be changed, however.
Team Romney has been keeping the speculation alive.
"I haven’t been able to get so much as a hint out of him," wrote Craig Romney in the email. "You’d think I’d have a little bit of 'pull' being his youngest and favorite son — sorry Tagg, it’s true — but no luck!"
Even the White House on Tuesday was talking about whom Romney would pick after the clamor over the Republican running mate reached new heights when The Drudge Report — which famously has close ties to Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades — splashed a report that CIA Director David Petraeus could be the choice.
Drudge anonymously cited an Obama donor, who reportedly was told by the president at a campaign fundraiser that Romney was considering the retired four-star general.
White House press secretary Jay Carney scoffed at the suggestion, telling reporters to be “mindful of your sources” and saying he was absolutely confident the president never made the assertion.
With Congress on a five-week recess and Washington in its August doldrums, speculation over Romney’s pick threatens to dominate the news cycle for the weeks leading into the Republican convention, especially once the Summer Olympics end on Sunday.
Team Romney has sought to pounce on an opportunity, with a bus trip through several swing states in which prospective running mates are scheduled to join Romney. The presumptive GOP nominee hopes the chatter about who he will pick, and subsequent excitement about the pick itself, will give him a boost that will allow him to enter the convention with momentum in a neck-and-neck presidential race.
The campaign has actively fanned those flames. In emails to supporters, Rhoades has promised donors the opportunity to be among the first to meet the vice presidential pick after the selection is made. And last week, the campaign debuted a new smartphone app that promises push notification of the pick to supporters who want to be the first to know.
On Tuesday, Romney deviated from his normal silence on the vice presidential search to tease that some of the speakers already announced for the Republican National Convention — including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez — had not necessarily been excluded from the running.
“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 said in an interview with Fox News. “The fact that someone is speaking at the convention doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t necessarily find their speaking slot changed from one time to another.”
Yet there are dangers for Romney in managing the vice presidential game. Experts say he must avoid setting expectations too high with the heavy buildup, especially if he chooses a safer pick that does not inspire grassroots conservatives.
Further complicating the issue for Romney is widespread speculation focusing on novelty candidates who could generate huge interest — but who also carry significant risks or have indicated they are not interested in the position.
“There seems to be additional public pressure on Romney to, quote, ‘go big,’ ” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “But now if he chooses one of the names that we all expect him to, one of the candidates that has been talked about for months, the choice could seem predictable and expected and not be that exciting.”
The media focus on Romney’s choice is intensifying, particularly in conservative circles.
The Drudge story on Petraeus came on the heels of an editorial in the Weekly Standard last week by Stephen F. Hayes and Kristol urging Romney to make a bold pick with his vice presidential selection. And a week ago, during an appearance on Fox News, prominent GOP strategist Ed Rollins warned the party would continue to be perceived as “a bunch of old white guys” unless Romney looks to add diversity to the ticket.
Romney’s Republican base appears to be siding with commentators calling for a bold pick. In a poll released last month by CNN and ORC, 26 percent of those surveyed said Romney should pick Rice, while 21 percent gave the nod to former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), one of Romney’s rivals in the GOP primary. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were the only other candidates to poll in the double digits, each pulling 14 percent of the vote.
Selling those supporters on the eventual selection is essential, because dyed-in-the-wool partisans can buoy a campaign after a selection by turning out to rallies in increased numbers and giving generously to a campaign. But the degree of difficulty increases when none of the candidates widely bruited to be at the top of Romney’s list cracks double digits among Republican voters.
“You’ve got to find someone who will not turn off the base, but will also not turn off the swing voters in the middle,” said Republican strategist Tyler Harber.
The Romney campaign believes, however, that whoever the eventual pick is, the base will almost certainly rally around him or her. And the risks of an unconventional choice — or forgoing the opportunity to drive the media narrative and excite supporters by teasing the choice — are far greater than the mild disappointment of a boring pick.
“The campaign wants to make sure they don’t have a Palin moment — you don’t want to pick someone who overshadows you, or deviates from the message,” said Harber, referring to the last GOP vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. “In 2008, we all learned a lesson on how not to pick the vice president and how not to use the VP on the trail itself, and I think the Romney campaign will take a more measured approach.”
— This story was originally posted at 5:00 a.m. and updated at 12:17 p.m.