“Instead of saying, ‘I could’ve been a contender,’ you can say, ‘I am a contender’ even if you’re not,” says Shrum.
No one’s owning up, but Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., managed to get mentioned as a veep contender in 2008 although the notion that he was under consideration was laughable to GOP nominee John McCain’s campaign.
Shrum, who worked on Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 campaign, when John Edwards was the running mate, says then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson “very much wanted to be seen as being vetted in 2004, until he pulled his own name out of contention.” Shrum’s theory is that Richardson never wanted to be chosen, but wanted to make a name for himself in preparation for his own 2008 run for president.
Joel Goldstein, an expert on the vice presidency at Saint Louis University School of Law, said presidential candidates may try to flatter a politician or appease a voting bloc by letting it be known that a certain person is under consideration when that person doesn’t have a chance. Some call that an “ego vet.”
What really matters, says Goldstein, is who’s been asked by the campaign to submit documents and answer questionnaires as part of a thorough vetting process.
Steve Schmidt, a senior strategist to McCain’s 2008 presidential run, said campaigns are “very careful to have a very inclusive list of people” as potential running mates to avoid giving offense.
Last month, when word surfaced that Rubio wasn’t being vetted, it could have created considerable grief for Romney in Florida and with Hispanics. Romney quickly came out and said that Rubio was being “thoroughly vetted.”
More often, though, Romney clams up when asked about his search efforts.
That’s a far cry from the vice presidential selection process of earlier decades, when candidates were paraded before cameras and, ultimately, very publicly ruled out, causing considerable embarrassment. Walter Mondale, the Democratic nominee in 1984, would fly potential running mates to Minnesota for interviews and hold joint news conferences.
More recently, candidates have gone to great lengths to keep their deliberations secret until they’re ready to announce a choice.
When George W. Bush settled on Dick Cheney in 2000 more than a week before his running mate was to be announced, aides worried the secret might not hold. Campaign architect Karl Rove’s solution: lie.
Rove told a campaign aide who was known to leak information to reporters: “Don’t tell anybody — but it’s going to be Danforth.”
That evening, three networks reported that former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri had emerged as a top candidate for the GOP ticket.
“We’d gotten what we needed: a little breathing room for Cheney’s announcement,” Rove wrote in his memoir.
Too much secrecy, though, can prove problematic, particularly when a vice presidential choice is not well known.