Mitt Romney is skillfully playing the guessing game of Vetting the Veep, a popular quadrennial exercise for non-incumbent presidential candidates.
This weekend he invited a variety of potential running running-mates to a Utah resort where big donors could look them over while also discussing campaign strategy with the candidate himself, his top advisors and party luminaries like Sen. John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, Karl Rove and James A. Baker III.
Romney has been traveling around auditioning potential veeps, flattering them all into thinking they're top level contenders. And they may be. He insists he has made no decisions and has entrusted the search to a trusted aide who, in contrast to Dick Cheney, is unlikely to nominate herself. He says he wants to pick someone who can step in and take over if necessary. In other words, no Sarah Palin.
Historically, the vice presidential candidate makes little difference in the election. Two notable exceptions are Lyndon Johnson, who was critical to carrying Texas in 1960, and Gov. Palin, who became more punch line and liability than serious candidate, but it is unlikely anyone or anything could have saved John McCain in 2008.
The charisma-challenged Romney has brought a variety of wannabes to campaign with him as his aides – and theirs – drop hints about how compatible the two are and how impressed each is with the other’s knowledge and campaign skills.
It’s a trip tease. A different traveling companion for each constituency. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan in the upper Midwest, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman in the Buckeye state, Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida and with Hispanics, and so on.
On Romney’s Utah guest list this weekend were Pawlenty, Portman, Ryan, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and South Dakota Sen. John Thune. So was Jeb Bush, but he said he doesn’t want the job. Rubio reportedly declined to spend the time with his children. Several were notably absent. There were no women, although Governors Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Susana Martinez of New Mexico have been mentioned frequently.
Also notably absent were Tea Party fave Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has said Romney "might be able to convince me" to take the job but he likes the one he has.
That’s what they all say since no one openly – key word: openly – campaigns for the job.
The field of possible running mates is much more impressive – and often appealing –than most of the original gaggle of presidential hopefuls that Romney beat for the nomination – Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum — but that doesn’t mean he might pick one of them.
Romney is smartly playing his cards very close to the vest, keeping interest and suspense high and letting the media help vet the possibilities.
Those who know who Romney wants aren’t talking, and those who don’t are doing all the talking, as usual.