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

Pressure is mounting on Mitt Romney to 'go bold' with his VP pick, even if the assumption is that he'll play it safe. A three-day bus tour at week's end is being eyed as a good time to make an announcement.

Charles Dharapak/AP
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.

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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