- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2012

The buzz around Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential choice has become deafening — a political soap opera that involves “American Idol”-like auditions on the stump and conflicting reports on who is in the running.

The early favorite of Beltway oddsmakers was Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. His low-octane political style and his packed resume from his years in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet made him a logical pick for politicos who said Mr. Romney would try to avoid 2008 nominee Sen. John McCain’s high-risk strategy of picking a game-changer and selecting Sarah Palin, then the governor of Alaska.

The Ohio Republican, though, has since come back down to earth as the political peanut gallery has turned its attention to Tim Pawlenty.

The former Minnesota governor has put his poor performance in the primary campaign behind him to become one of the Romney camp’s most reliable and loyal surrogates, and his blue-collar background could balance the privileged upbringing of the former Bain Capital bigwig.

Meanwhile, don’t count out Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin who is Republicans’ point man on fiscal issues, or Sen. Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American freshman star from Florida who, as the party’s most high-profile Hispanic leader, is now its default leader on immigration policy.

“The media circus around the VP pick is crazier, more ridiculous than ever — and seems to grow every election,” said Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

Former Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire credited the Romney team with creating a “P.T. Barnum event.”

“They don’t have to do too much, but the occasional leak here, the occasional trip to certain states where a vice-presidential candidate is from,” he said. “This is really a very smartly played use to get attention and get coverage.”

The way the handicappers see it, picking a No. 2 is an inexact science that aims to answer the basic question of who, given the current political environment, offers Mr. Romney the best chance of calling the White House home next year.

Does the Romney camp want to strengthen its hand in a swing state? If so, Mr. Portman, Mr. Rubio or Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia might fill the bill. If they want someone who can demand the press’s attention, they need look no further than Chris Christie, New Jersey’s larger-than-life governor. Policy wonk? Mr. Ryan or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal might be ripe for the picking.

Whatever the case, with less five months to go before Election Day, Mr. Romney is holding his cards close to his vest and his final selection might not be known until August, at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

He has, however, felt the need to weigh in on the subject from time to time, including last week when he refuted news reports that said Mr. Rubio is no longer in the running. Some analysts read the move as an attempt to save face with Hispanic voters who favor President Obama in polls by wide margins.

Mr. Romney laughed off the wild conjecture in a recent Fox News interview.

“I get a kick out of some of the speculation that goes on. I’m not going to comment on the process, of course. But I can tell you this: Only Beth Myers and I know who is being vetted,” Mr. Romney said. Ms. Myers, a longtime adviser and trusted confidant, is leading his selection process.

Mr. Romney said that even Ann, his wife of 43 years, does not know the details of the vetting, while Ms. Myers simply “doesn’t talk.”

But why let that spoil the fun, especially in the dog days of summer?

“It’s the quadrennial parlor game, where anyone who knows anything isn’t talking and people talking the most know nothing,” said Charlie Cook, head of the Cook Political Report.

His bet? Mr. Portman or Mr. Pawlenty.

“My gut tells me that Romney will be looking for a very solid, seasoned person with executive experience, will not be looking to make a showy splash or chase after a particular demographic,” Mr. Cook said. “Romney is not an ‘outside the box’ guy, not a long bomb thrower. While Romney doesn’t excite the conservative base, he doesn’t need to reach to his right because President Obama excites the conservative base.”

Asked about the circus over Mr. Romney’s vice-presidential pick, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said, “Truth abhors a vacuum, but speculation thrives in it.”

“Nobody outside Romney’s inner circle knows anything, and they aren’t talking. The rest of us are left to try to read tea leaves and photo-ops. Naturally, we misinterpret many of the signals because we lack context.”

Few, he said, expected Richard Nixon to tap Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew in 1968, George McGovern to select (and later replace) Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri in 1972, or Walter Mondale to pick Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York in 1984.

George H.W. Bush also surprised people when he named Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana as his right-hand man in 1988. His son, George W. Bush, also turned some heads when he brought former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney on board in 2000.

“It’s impossible to get inside the head of a presidential nominee,” Mr. Sabato said. “But we’ll all die trying.”