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the vote blog

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is politics the way it is actually played. The Vote blog looks at politics the way the players talk about it among themselves after work.

Signage in support of US Senate candidates Tim Kaine and George Allen outside of Squires Student Center, the site of a live televised debate on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times/AP)

Senate race? What Senate race? Why Virginians pay a big race little heed.

By Staff writer / 10.19.12

Despite an avalanche of advertisements and the two Senate candidates' long legacies in Virginia politics, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine have an unexpected challenge in their tight race: getting voters to pay attention to them.

“I am shocked, as I’m going out and ringing [on] doors [on behalf of GOP candidates], people don’t know the Senate candidates, despite their pedigree,” says former Rep. Tom Davis (R), who represented a district abutting Washington, D.C., for a dozen years until 2008.

The Senate rivals have now debated in public five times, most recently Thursday night. Millions have been spent by their campaigns to reach voters. Yet local politicos report that many Virginians seem to have not the foggiest idea what is going on in one of 2012’s marquee Senate races.

Susan Allen, campaigning for her husband, recently wrangled a light moment out of voter ignorance. She had run through her stump speech and was ready for questions from a handful of employees at a small medical company in Mt. Jackson, Va., a town in the commonwealth’s Shenandoah Valley.

The first questioner asked about the main differences between her husband, who has served the state as both a governor and a US senator, and his opponent, also an ex-governor.

As Mrs. Allen began her explanation, the questioner broke in again. “What’s his name, by the way?” he said, referring to Mr. Allen’s opponent.

“Tim Kaine,” she whispered, to a laugh.

What gives? There are a couple of theories.

One is that time in the commonwealth is measured in “Virginia years,” as Mr. Davis put it. The state is changing rapidly as its minority representation grows, and in the suburbs around Washington, D.C., there's a high churn rate of people moving in and out. As a result, a fair share of the voters who elected Allen (who ran for governor in 1993 and Senate in 2000) and Kaine (who ran for governor in 2005) simply aren't around anymore.

In 2000, less than 5 percent of the state was Hispanic. In the 2010 census, that figure grew to more than 8 percent. Virginia is about two percentage points more Asian in 2012, at about 6 percent, than in 2000.

Another is that the state is awash in political advertising – and the Senate candidates may be tuned out as “just another political ad.”

In 2008, nearly 59,000 presidential ads were aired across the commonwealth, according to data from CNN and Campaign Media Analysis Group. The Obama and Romney campaigns had roared past that mark by Sept. 30, with more than 80,000 aired, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

Compare that with the Senate campaigns, which aired nearly 22,000 commercials combined through the end of September, according to data from the Wesleyan Media Project.

Some voters may be turned off by the negative tone of many ads in both the presidential and Senate campaigns, says Bob Denton, a professor of political communication at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

Attack ads can activate a candidate's base and may hit home with a few voters leaning in one direction or another, he notes. But “there can be a backfire effect from the standpoint of cynicism, and the older people are the more sensitive they tend to be in terms of that cynical attitude,” Professor Denton says. Brutal negativity “could suppress votes if you’re not careful.”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama spar during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, Tuesday, Oct. 16, in Hempstead, N.Y. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Presidential debate: How would you rate this musical parody? (+video)

By Staff / 10.18.12

If the 1.5-hour-long presidential debate format tends to tax your ability to remain engaged, you might try the condensed, "songified" YouTube version.

The Gregory Brothers, aka schmoyoho, have, for the third time, provided a musical video parody of the latest Election 2012 debate. The Brooklyn-based band has previously "songifed the first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, as well as the vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.

Now debates are a serious business, designed to help voters make up their minds about the issues and the candidates. So, it's difficult to argue that these videos offer any value beyond entertainment. It's sort of like arguing that you can be a well-informed voter only by watching Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" hosted by Jon Stewart.

Nonetheless, these video parodies are a product of the times and are finding an audience.

As of the time of this writing on Thursday the video seen here on youtube, has 273,537 hits. 

So, who are The Gregory Brothers?

The unique musical stylings are made up by a group of three brothers originally from Virginia named Evan, Michael, and Andrew, when they began making mixed tapes from their living room. According to the group's website, their work hadn't really taken off until 2007 when Evan's wife Sarah from Texas joined, completing the quartet. After sharing their original country & soul, folk, and rock & roll tunes on a local 50 show tour, they then decided to make their Youtube series, "Auto-Tune the News" in 2008, with hopes of enticing more people to be interested in "C-Span if it thumped with a bass line and a beat," their website states. 

In a New York Times op-ed, Dave Itzkoff writes in this 2011 profile of the band, "They do this by taking footage that has already been widely circulated around the Internet — a viral video sensation — and they, to use a word from their lexicon, 'songify' it."

The Gregory Brothers use an auto-tune - an audio processor that digitally alters the pitch creating an effect that makes a speaker sound like they're singing. In this case, they've taken the actual debate participants and altered their voices to make it sound like they're singing. They've also introduced their own melody, instruments, and characters to the debate setting. Check out this behind-the-scenes look at the overnight effort to create the latest video. 

The latest video begins with debate moderator Candy Crowley, strumming a guitar and in rap-style, singing “Welcome to the town hall debate where ordinary people talk to the candidates.”

The video "songifies" several of the topics of the Tuesday night debate: healthcare cost, jobs, tax rates, equal pay for equal work for women, with town hall attendees Skippy, Chad, and Cynthia asking “What are you gonna do.”

And feel free to sing along.

Romney supporters watch the second presidential debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama at Marshall's Restaurant and Bar, on Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio. Three weeks before the presidential election, both parties are working hard to get their candidates elected. Ohio is a key battleground state. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor)

Viewing the Romney-Obama debate in battleground Ohio: a tribal experience

By Staff writer / 10.17.12

What do you do when you’re invited to two parties on the same night? Easy. You go to both.

And so it was on Tuesday night, both the Romney and Obama campaigns here in Columbus, Ohio – the heart of the ultimate battleground state – set up “debate-watching parties” to cheer on their respective candidates.

A quick check on Mapquest revealed that they were taking place only about three miles apart, and voilà, a party-hopping strategy was born: We (your correspondent and her colleague, Monitor photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman) would start out at the Romney event, then after about 40 minutes, jump in our car and go over to the Obama event.

After all, we didn’t want to appear biased. And there was so much at stake for each side: President Obama was under intense pressure to step up his game after a lackluster performance in the first debate two weeks ago. Mitt Romney, riding high from his Oct. 3 triumph, had an opportunity to build on the momentum that has turned the race into a dead heat.

Who would attend these events? And how would the partisans react? The Romney tribe – top Ohio campaign staff, volunteers, and supporters, about 130 people in all – gathered at a sports bar called Marshall’s. Chris Lockwood, the US editor of The Economist, visiting from London, was also in the house. We counted 12 TVs, all tuned to Fox News. The libations flowed freely.  

To be sure, each side cheered on its man and snorted derisively at the opposition. But in fact, there was also a fair amount of silent, attentive listening – and apparent monitoring of social media on smart phones and laptops. These were serious politicos.

Mr. Romney won applause and laughter when he turned the tables on Mr. Obama over the bailout of the auto industry. It was the president, in fact, who “took Detroit bankrupt,” Romney said. Romney’s mention of “that pipeline from Canada,” the Keystone XL pipeline, which he supports, in contrast to Obama, also won applause.

When Romney stood his ground in the face of attempted interruptions by Obama – “You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking,” Romney said –his supporters cheered. This contrasts with the reactions of undecided voters, who (we later learned from focus groups) did not like the moments when the two contenders moved into close physical proximity and talked over each other and over the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley.

Perhaps the most emotionally involved debate-watcher in the room was Pamela Lanier of Columbus, who shook her fist at the TV screen when Obama spoke about small businesses.

“I’m a small-business owner,” Ms. Lanier told Ms. Freeman. “Obama wasn’t in there turning on the lights and emptying the trash. I employ five women.”

Time now to migrate to the Obama tribe, gathered in a movie theater at the Ohio State University (OSU). We walk in to a sea of faces – mostly college students, some campaign volunteers and staff, and the Democratic nominee for Ohio’s Third Congressional District, Joyce Beatty – all trained on giant Romney and giant Obama on the big screen. It’s tuned to MSNBC, of course. 

During the ride over, we missed the discussion of contraception (we later learned), which probably played well with this crowd. But there were other moments for the Obama fans to cheer, such as when Ms. Crowley backed up Obama on the question of whether he had called the Sept. 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, an act of terror in his Rose Garden appearance on Sept. 12.

“He did in fact, sir,” Crowley said, contradicting Romney. The Obama supporters at OSU erupted in cheers.

A closer look at the transcript reveals that Obama’s reference to “acts of terror” is not clearly about Benghazi. And he did for days continue to blame a YouTube video for the violence, not terrorism. But the instant verdict by Crowley allowed Obama to score a temporary point.

When Romney’s answer on gun control morphed into a discussion of child-bearing, this statement brought an audible gasp from the crowd: “To tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone – that's a great idea.”

“Did he just say that?!” an audience-member responded incredulously.

But it was Obama’s final flourish of the debate that brought on the biggest cheer: He finally dropped a reference to Romney’s recorded private comment slamming “the 47 percent.”

“I believe Governor Romney is a good man. He loves his family, cares about his faith,” Obama said. “But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility – think about who he was talking about.”

People on Social Security, Obama continued. And veterans, students, soldiers, low-wage workers.

After failing to bring up the infamous 47 percent remark in the first debate, to the dismay of the president’s Democratic base, Obama had finally gotten in his dig.

“This time he found his voice,” said Sherry Girves, an Obama volunteer, after the debate.

Said a student: “I’m so glad I skipped studying to go to this.”

Members of the audience look to the stage as President Barack Obama speak at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, Oct. 8 in Keene, Calif. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

In dedicating César Chávez monument, Obama reaches out to Latino voters

By Staff writer / 10.08.12

While Mitt Romney touted his foreign policy agenda in Virginia on Columbus Day, President Obama courted a key demographic in California: Hispanic voters.

Mr. Obama designated the César E. Chávez National Monument in Keene, Calif., honoring the labor leader and reaching out to Latinos and union workers at the same time.

He toured the site at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, where Mr. Chávez lived and where he helped the United Farm Workers union strategize for better pay and working conditions.

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In his remarks, Obama evoked recent history, when no one seemed to care about the plight of America's farm workers.

"César cared," the president said. "In his own peaceful and eloquent way, he made other people care, too."

The site includes Chávez's grave, his office, and the small home where his widow still lives.

The decision to designate a monument here is historic – it will be the first parcel in the National Park Service system honoring a modern-day Latino – but it also clearly has political motivations.

Currently, polls show that Obama has the support of about 70 percent of Latino voters – a wide lead that could help propel him to victory. Hispanics are a growing demographic that both Obama and Mr. Romney have eagerly sought. But while the numbers for Obama are encouraging, it's unclear how enthusiastically many of those voters support him or whether they'll get to the polls on Election Day.

Already, in a move his opponents have criticized as politically motivated, Obama has gained some support from Latino voters with his decision to allow work permits to some young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, via the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – a program similar to the DREAM Act.

Given that focus on immigration – and the importance of immigration reform to many Hispanic voters – it's notable what a controversial figure Chávez was, even among Latinos.

As co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association (which later became the UFW), he was a tireless advocate for laborers' rights and helped make the plight of thousands of fieldworkers a moral cause. He also coined the famous phrase "Si, se puede" – the Spanish phrase that was reflected in Obama's "Yes we can" slogan in 2008.

But Chávez was not a fan of expanding immigration. He believed that undocumented immigrants undercut the pay and negotiating power of unionized workers, and he protested farms' use of migrant and undocumented workers as "strikebreakers."

In some instances, he and the UFW even reported some undocumented immigrants to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for deportation.

In the 1970s, under Chávez, the UFW set up a "wet line" along the US-Mexico border to stop immigrants from entering the US illegally.

Almost certainly, it was the pro-worker, civil rights activist Chávez, and not the anti-immigrant Chávez, that Obama sought to honor in dedicating the monument on Monday.

Chávez, he noted in his remarks, believed "when someone who works 12 hours a day in the fields can earn enough to put food on the table – maybe save up enough to buy a home – that lifts up our entire economy."

First lady Michelle Obama gets some pointers as she watches the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., Nov. 20, 2011. ((AP Photo/Alan Diaz) )

Obama opens up lead over Romney with NASCAR voters: Another straw the wind?

By Staff writer / 09.24.12

Remember back in November when Michelle Obama was booed at a NASCAR race?

Well, a new poll shows NASCAR fans are now moving into the Obama camp.

An online survey of of 860 likely voters nationwide – taken Sept. 21 and 22 –  shows President Barack Obama with an 7-point lead over GOP challenger Mitt Romney, according to a new Zogby Poll [PDF] with JZ Analytics.

The question posed: "If the election for president were held today, for whom would you vote?" The answer: Forty-nine percent of NASCAR fans would vote for Obama. 42 percent said Romney.

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But if you think that NASCAR fans are conservative Southern rednecks, then you'd probably be drawing the wrong conclusion from this poll. Wal-Mart shoppers, Christian conservatives, and white men are still in the Romney camp.

In fact, the NASCAR voting preferences almost exactly match the Zogby results from all likely American voters: Obama now leads 49 percent to 41 percent.

But the trend in both cases is heading away from Romney. Just two weeks ago, a Zogby/JZ Analytics poll showed the two almost tied among motorsports fans. Obama had 44 percent of NASCAR voters, Romney had 43 percent. The margin of error was 3.5 percent.

"I won’t say that things are spinning out of control for Romney, but I can say that things are not spinning in control. He is off message, losing ground, not connecting with his own base, being severely chastised (and even dismissed) by GOP pundits who should be his friends. There are ups and downs in presidential campaigns. For Romney, this is a real down," writes pollster John Zogby.

Who are NASCAR voters? Well, the stereotype of conservative Southern rednecks is a bit outdated.

Forty percent are women. More than half make $50,000 or less per year. Yes, they tend to be a bit older than the general population, according to a 2010 NASCAR report (PDF).  But as an article by S.E. Cupp, featured on the NASCAR site, notes, NASCAR fans four years ago tended to just lean conservative: 35 percent Republican vs. 28 percent Democrat. 

Beyond NASCAR voters, support for Mitt Romney hasn't shifted core traditional Republican voter groups. For example, among weekly Wal-Mart shoppers, Romney still has a 3-point lead over Obama, which is the same gap as the last similar Zogby poll on Sept. 11-12.

Similarly, Romney's support among self-identified Born Again Christians has held steady, as has Romney's 12-point lead among all white voters.

So, beware of reading too much into the NASCAR headlines.

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Former governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm addresses delegates during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday. (Jason Reed/REUTERS)

Best lines of Democratic convention – from Jennifer Granholm to John Kerry (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.07.12

Who knew that John Kerry was a stand-up comedian?

When the Democratic senator from Massachusetts ran for president in 2004, he was panned as stiff and pompous. But in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday night at the Democratic convention, the man who may be the next secretary of State reeled off a string of one-liners that had the delegates roaring and reporters wide-eyed.

Other Democrats, including President Obama, also got off some good lines. Here’s a selection:

• “Ask Osama bin Laden if he’s better off now than he was four years ago,” Senator Kerry said. The line was a three-fer: It mocked the now-deceased head of Al Qaeda. It reminded the audience that bin Laden is dead, a national security coup no one can take away from Mr. Obama. And it made light of the Republican charge that Americans are not better off than they were four years ago.

• “Talk about being for it before you were against it,” Kerry also said. This one’s a two-fer: He was making fun of Mitt Romney’s shifting positions on Iraq and Libya, and then mocking himself for his infamous comment from the 2004 race when he was tagged (like Mr. Romney) as a flip-flopper.

• “For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn't a goodwill mission – it was a blooper reel.” More Kerry, referring to Romney’s gaffe-marred foreign trip in July, when, for example, he undiplomatically told the British he was worried about security during the forthcoming Olympics.

• “Yes, you do have to go to school in the morning,” Obama said of his two girls, who were seated before him on the convention floor. Obama mentions Malia (14) and Sasha (11) regularly, an effective way to address his tendency to seem aloof.

• “If you're sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me, so am I,” Obama said. He was referring to the line candidates are required to cite in campaign ads they pay for. It was also a dig at the Supreme Court ruling Citizens United that has opened the floodgates on campaign spending and ads.

• “As another president once said, 'There they go again,' ” former President Bill Clinton said Wednesday night. Paraphrasing the late Ronald Reagan, he was mocking Republican proposals to cut spending on social programs but increase spending on defense.

• “People have predicted our demise ever since George Washington was criticized for being a mediocre surveyor with a bad set of wooden false teeth.” More Clinton.

• “He loves our cars so much, they even have their own elevator,” said Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Romney’s native state of Michigan, in an arm-waving, cheerleading tour de force. Who says women can’t be funny?

• “In Romney’s world, the cars get the elevator, and the workers get the shaft,” more ex-Governor Granholm, who spoke Thursday night. She was referring to the car elevator once proposed for Romney’s home in California. Now, safe to say, that elevator will never be built.

The convention hall in Tampa as organizers prepared for the Republican National Convention last week. (Warren Richey/Staff)

Video of the GOP convention: Take a peek behind the curtain

By Staff writer / 09.01.12

Republicans from across the nation descended on Tampa, Fla., last week for their national political convention. The mission: nominate GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

The gathering began under a threat from tropical storm Isaac and ended in the blazing Tampa heat. Expected massive protests by anarchists and the Occupy Movement never materialized – perhaps in part because of an overwhelming contingent of police and security officials.

Security around the Tampa Bay Times Forum often resembled a military outpost with an eight-foot-high steel fence and concrete barriers patrolled by Florida National Guard troops armed with assault rifles. Reporters lugging their gear the half-mile through the security zone in the intense heat and humidity were funneled into two checkpoints with TSA specialists, medal detectors, and X-ray machines.   

Even well within the convention site, reporters were continually asked to show their convention credentials.

The real action took place inside the forum on the convention floor. That’s where Monitor correspondent Warren Richey spent most of his time – with cameras at the ready.

What unfolded represented a new level of political wackiness. Any item of clothing that could possibly support an American flag or elephant theme was on full display among the delegates and other convention participants. Lady Liberty made an appearance all the way from Long Beach, Calif., in a Colonial gown with a flag theme. A Kansas Jayhawk patrolled the floor, as did an Abe Lincoln look-alike who doubled as a delegate from Missouri.

Here is Warren Richey’s six-minute take on the 2012 Republican National Convention.

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Was the Declaration of Independence (a rare first printing of which is shown here) the first mention of the 'United States of America'? Maybe not. (Elise Amendola/AP/File)

Who coined the name 'United States of America'? Mystery gets new twist.

By Byron DeLearContributor / 08.16.12

It may seem surprising, but nobody is really sure who came up with the phrase, “United States of America.”

Speculation generally swirls around a familiar cast of characters – the two Toms (Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson), Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, and even a gentleman named Oliver Ellsworth (a delegate from the Constitutional Convention of 1787). But every instance of those gentlemen using the name "United States of America" is predated by a recently discovered example of the phrase in the Revolutionary-era Virginia Gazette.

So who was perhaps the first person ever to write the words "United States of America"? 

A PLANTER. 

That was how the author of an essay in the Gazette signed the anonymous letter. During that time, it was common practice for essays and polemics to be published anonymously in an attempt to avoid future charges of treason – only later has history identified some of these authors. 

The discovery adds a new twist – as well as the mystery of the Planter's identity – to the search for the origin of a national name that has now become iconic. 

Several references mistakenly credit Paine with formulating the name in January 1776. Paine’s popular and persuasive book, "Common Sense," uses “United Colonies,” “American states,” and “FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA,” but he never uses the final form. 

The National Archives, meanwhile, cite the first known use of the “formal term United States of America” as being the Declaration of Independence, which would recognize Jefferson as the originator. Written in June 1776, Jefferson’s “original Rough draught” placed the new name at the head of the business – “A Declaration by the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in General Congress assembled."

Jefferson clearly had an idea as to what would sound good by presenting the national moniker in capitalized letters. But in the final edit, the line was changed to read, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” The fact that “United States of America” appears in both versions of the Declaration may have been enough evidence to credit Jefferson with coining the phrase, but there is another example published three months earlier.

Beginning in March 1776, a series of anonymously written articles began appearing in The Virginia Gazette – one of three different Virginia Gazettes being published in Williamsburg at that time. Addressed to the “Inhabitants of Virginia,” the essays present an economic set of arguments promoting independence versus reconciliation with Great Britain. The author estimates total Colonial losses at $24 million and laments the possibility of truce without full reparation – and then voices for the first time what would become the name of our nation.

“What a prodigious sum for the united states of America to give up for the sake of a peace, that, very probably, itself would be one of the greatest misfortunes!” – A PLANTER

So who is A PLANTER?

Likely candidates could be well-known Virginians, like Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, or even Jefferson. Some of the essay’s phrasing can be found in the writings of Jefferson. For example, “to bind us by their laws in all cases whatsoever,” appears in both the essay and Jefferson’s autobiography.

A Planter could be the nomme de plume of an intrepid New Englander, like John Adams, attempting to rally support for independence in the South, a similar motive for why he charged Jefferson, a Southerner, to pen the Declaration. 

A Planter could be Benjamin Franklin, who was well-known for his hoaxes and journalistic sleight-of-hand. Or maybe, A Planter is exactly whom the letters portray, an industrious, logistics-minded landowner, evangelizing about the promise of increased prosperity should the “united states of America” ever become an independent nation.

There is a possibility the author was aware of the historical significance of introducing the new name for the first time, as he or she observes:

“Many to whom this language is new, may, at first, be startled at the name of an independent Republick, [and think that] the expenses of maintaining a long and important war will exceed the disadvantages of submitting to some partial and mutilated accommodation. But let these persons point out to you any other alternative than independence or submission. For it is impossible for us to make any other concessions without yielding to the whole of their demands.”

So, the mystery continues.

Our anonymous author, A Planter, certainly did plant a few seeds in the spring of 1776. Those seeds came to fruition as the first documentary evidence of the phrase “United States of America” – an experiment in self-government that quickly became one of the most powerful and influential nations in the world.

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Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin reacts to audience applause during a campaign event at the Waukesha County Expo Center, Sunday, Aug. 12, in Waukesha, Wis. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Paul Ryan shirtless? We're more interested in his widow's peak.

By Staff writer / 08.13.12

Since his unveiling Saturday as Mitt Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan has gone from being famous only inside the Beltway – and in his corner of Wisconsin – to being a national curiosity.

How else to explain the fact that the second most-searched term Saturday on Google related to Congressman Ryan, after “vice president,” was “shirtless,” as noted by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post’s “Fix” column. Indeed, aside from his focus on all things budgetary, the youthful Ryan is also known on Capitol Hill for his devotion to physical fitness. And despite the fact that he’s married – happily, by all indications – that hasn’t stopped the return of the “Hey Girl, It’s Paul Ryan” meme on Tumblr.

But truth be told, we’re more interested in Ryan’s hair – particularly his widow’s peak. Having a full head of hair is always a plus in politics, but the way his hair comes down to a little point in the middle of his forehead (think Eddie Munster) gives him an added bonus. It brings to mind no less a Republican figure than the late President Ronald Reagan, the last inhabitant of the White House to have a pronounced widow’s peak.

For Republicans, ever on the lookout for the next Reagan, this could be a sign.

In fact, a professor at University of California at Irvine did a study in the late 1980s on the facial attributes of politicians, and found that widow’s peaks were “a clear positive” with the public, according to an April piece in the Washington Post’s “Reliable Source” column.

“It was associated with being seen as more competent and with greater integrity,” Shawn Rosenberg, a professor of political science and psychology, told the Post. He couldn’t explain why.

Last year, at a forum at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Ryan referred to his distinctive hairline as he shrugged off talk of his political future, according to the school’s faculty blog.

“When I look in the mirror, I see a broken nose and a widow’s peak,” he said. “I don’t see a future president.”

Wonder if that’s still the case.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney laughs as reporters ask him about his vice presidential pick, as he boards his charter plane in Centennial, Colo., on Aug. 2. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Mitt Romney VP pick: Convention speaker list offers fresh tea leaves

By Staff writer / 08.06.12

Could Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick come late this week – perhaps as he kicks off a three-day bus tour through battleground states that begins Friday?

That's what some campaign watchers are predicting, though Mr. Romney may opt to hold onto the suspense – and avoid competing for an audience with Olympics coverage, which ends Sunday – by waiting until closer to the GOP Convention in Tampa, Fla., held the last week in August.

Still, speculation over who the pick will be is only growing – and the announcement Monday of seven speakers at that convention seemed to narrow down the long list of contenders at least slightly.

The list of announced speakers includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. None of their time slots were given, and other speakers – including the keynote speaker – will be announced closer to the convention.

Some of those names, including the three women, have been tossed around as possible veep picks, but that now seems unlikely (though it is possible that a name was released as a red herring). More notable is who wasn't on the list of announced speakers, including many names on most people's vice presidential short list: Sen. Mario Rubio of Florida, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

At this point, the biggest speculation among many campaign watchers is whether Romney will go with a "safe" pick (someone like Senator Portman or former Governor Pawlenty) or with a riskier one, who could energize certain segments of voters.

He's been under some pressure from fellow conservatives to go the latter route – most notably with a plea over the weekend from Weekly Standard editors Stephen Hayes and William Kristol that urges Romney to "go bold!" (Of course, bear in mind that Mr. Kristol has was also one of the earliest, most ardent promoters of another "bold" VP pick that in retrospect seems to have been a mistake: He pushed Sarah Palin for vice president before many Republicans had heard of her.)

In their article, they tell him to, "Go bold, Mitt! Pick Paul Ryan, the Republican Party’s intellectual leader, the man who’s laid out the core of the post-Obama policy agenda and gotten his colleagues in Congress to sign on to it. Or pick Marco Rubio, the GOP’s most gifted young politician, the man who embodies what is best about the Tea Party and a vision of a broad-based Republican governing majority of the future."

They go on to lay out a case for Senator Rubio (energizing Hispanic voters nationwide, but particularly in Florida, where they are a key demographic in a must-win state) and Congressman Ryan (energizing conservatives and Midwestern voters).

Even one of the people mentioned on most veep short lists, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, made a case for Ryan as vice president over the weekend, speaking at the Red State Gathering in Jacksonville, Fla.

“I think picking somebody like a Paul Ryan would send a very powerful message that this administration was serious about Medicare reform, entitlement reform, shrinking the size of government, and doing so in a courageous way,” Governor Jindal said.

Still, conventional wisdom is that Romney is likely to play it safe and will go with someone, like Portman or Pawlenty, with whom he gets along well and who is unlikely to overshadow him.

Especially after John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin in the last election – which added initial excitement but then came back to haunt him – Romney seems likely to go with a candidate who seems ready for the presidency and is more of a "do no harm" pick than a bold one.

At this point, the Romney campaign is only fueling speculation about the pick – including unrolling a new app, called "Mitt's VP," through which supporters can supposedly learn about the pick before anyone else.

Whether or not Romney's campaign manages to control the news so tightly that it actually breaks via smartphone app, of course, remains to be seen.

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