Romney's crucial VP pick

The Republican's choice of vice president will be his most important decision before the November election.

    Mitt Romney will be pleased to be back on American soil after a foreign jaunt which probably couldn't have gone much worse.

    He annoyed the British with criticisms of the Olympics, upset the Palestinians by claiming Israel's economic superiority was a cultural thing and then a close aide urged reporters to show more respect at a Polish War memorial by swearing at them.

    It led one magazine to describe the Republican nominee's first foreign trip as a "horn-honking, floppy-shoed clown show".

    While it may contribute to the image of someone who is not ready to lead, the consequences of the last few days will count for little when the election comes around in just under 100 days. Few people will make their decision on whom to back on the missteps of July.

    Now Romney needs to turn his attention to building momentum to the Republican National Convention in Tampa at the end of the month, and a key step will be nominating a vice-presidential candidate.

    Power and influence

    John Adams was one of America's founding fathers. He helped draft the constitution and then was elected first-ever vice president. However, he thought little of the post, writing: "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived."

    Yet vice presidents do carry power and influence. And as Lyndon Johnston famously established, the holder of the office may be just one heartbeat away from the top job, and as Gerald Ford found out, one scandal away from taking over in the Oval office.

    This will be Romney's most important decision before the election. Former vice president Dick Cheney criticised John McCain's selection of four years ago when he named the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, Sarah Palin.

    While it shook up the campaign and energised the Republican base, it was a decision widely regarded as a serious political mistake, even if Governor Palin still disagrees. Cheney argues the most significant attribute must be "Can this person be president?".

    Anita McBride is a former staffer in the George W Bush White House and now lectures at the American University in Washington. She told me: "You’re looking for an extremely competent and qualified individual, man or woman, who has experience as an executive, perhaps it's in Congress, perhaps running a state, is comfortable around you, shares your beliefs, will be willing to do anything to help you win, and that will be someone that has areas of expertise that you don't have or can supplement what you have."

    The current favourite for the job is Ohio Senator Rob Portman. He's smart, highly regarded and has conservative credentials that appeal to the core of the party. He was George W’s budget director during the financial crisis, and that may be a strike against him.

    Bland and uninspiring

    Bland and uninspiring are some of the criticisms aimed at former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, another front-runner. His rise from humble beginnings may appeal to independent voters.

    He ran his own presidential bid but dropped out early with a sideswipe at Romney on the healthcare issue. Now he's one of the candidate's biggest supporters.

    Most commentators believe the race for the VP slot is now between those two, although other names such Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal or Florida Senator Marco Rubio continue to be thrown around in the mix. And there are wild cards like New Mexico Governor, Susana Martinez, Kelly Ayotte, as senator from New Hampshire and even Mike Huckabee, a former candidate and now TV pundit.

    Many names are floated during the vetting process to keep people interested and to find out if there is anything negative around which may disqualify them from the post.

    Ed Rogers, a veteran Republican pollster, says the vetting process has to be comprehensive because: "A day lost by explaining your VP nominee, something the VP did in their background, or something the VP said that is off-message is a wasted day, and it costs the campaign, rather than helps the campaign".

    Romney is careful and particular and so is considering all his options very carefully. He says he wants someone consistent and substantial. And while he would like his choice to shine, he'd want it to illuminate how smart Romney's choice was rather than overshadow the top name on the ticket.

    Follow Alan on Twitter @alanfisher



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