Almost no topic in American politics sparks as much useless and idle speculation as the quadrennial selection of vice-presidential running mates. Most of it is uninformed gossip.
So, here it goes.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, this week named his former chief of staff as governor of Massachusetts to start the vetting process that will lead to the choice of vice presidential candidate for the GOP ticket. Among pundits, that only accelerated a ball that had already been rolling fast, even though we are months away from an announcement.
Will it be Marco Rubio, the boyish Florida senator and Tea Party favourite who can hablar espanol and build bridges with crucial Latino voters?
What about Paul Ryan, the boyish Wisconsin congressman and Tea Party favourite who can fire up the budget hawks with his plan to slash federal spending and taxes?
Political panels on cable news will fill countless hours weighing the pros and cons of each of the potential candidates, even though John McCain’s Hail Mary selection of Sarah Palin in 2008 made all of the pre-convention speculation a waste of time.
Still, the veepstakes remains one of the most irresistible subjects in Washington, the equivalent of fantasy football for political geeks.
This year’s gossip picked up from the rumour that made the rounds last year. It involved President Barack Obama dumping Vice President Joe Biden from the ticket and adding current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as his running mate in 2012.
We all know how that turned out.
Now, with Mr. Romney’s appointment of Beth Myers to lead his search committee, the GOP veepstakes have begun in earnest.
A CNN poll out this week surprised many by naming former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice as the top choice of Republican voters to be Mr. Romney’s running mate. She had 26 per cent support.
Ms. Rice, who served in both George W. Bush administrations, has vehemently and categorically denied any interest. Frankly, with a new HBO series further ridiculing the office and its holder, who would ever want the job?
Ms. Rice’s denials seem genuine – as if that would stop the pundits. A black woman on the GOP ticket is a political consultant’s dream come true. Besides, four out of five GOP voters have a favourable impression of Ms. Rice. No other potential veep candidate comes close to that.
Several of the other potential running mates considered in the CNN poll – including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell – are virtual unknowns among the Republican rank-and-file.
Chris Christie, the tough-talking New Jersey Governor and current GOP star, is better known than most. Somewhat surprisingly, only 14 per cent of GOP voters told CNN he was their top choice as Mr. Romney’s running mate.
As much as Mr. Christie might energize GOP voters – a poll this week showed him helping Mr. Romney more than any other potential running mate – his strong personality is considered a drawback in a potential running mate. The latter should never overshadow his boss.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Mr. Romney’s chief rival for the GOP nomination before dropping out this month, came second to Ms. Rice in the CNN poll, with 21 per cent support. But not even Punxsutawney Phil would hazard predicting the likelihood of such as pairing.
Given Mr. Romney’s deliberative style, he is more likely to go with experience and dependability over political star power and grassroots appeal. That favours Ohio Senator Rob Portman, whom 67 per cent of Republicans have never heard of, according to CNN.
A former congressman who had two major posts in the Bush administration – U.S. trade representative and budget chief – Mr. Portman is a centrist Republican who happens to represent a quintessential swing state in Congress. Like Mr. Romney, he is all business.
He would not fire up the GOP base, as Ms. Palin did in 2008. But she also became albatross for Mr. McCain, scaring centrist voters away from the GOP in droves.
Those inclined to bet on such matters are increasingly putting their money on Mr. Portman. Intrade, the online betting site, now gives Mr. Portman a 20.5 per cent chance of becoming Mr. Romney’s running mate – a dramatic spike from only days ago.
Mr. Rubio has seen his fortunes slip. From a 25-per-cent chance recently, Intrade now pegs his probability of becoming the vice-presidential nominee at around 15 per cent.
The precocious 40-year-old first term senator may have betrayed his ambition in an interview on Thursday, when he tried to play down his interest in being on the 2012 ticket: “If in four to five years, if I do a good job as vice president –I’m sorry, as senator – I’ll have the chance to do all sorts of things.”
What is that saying about “out of the mouths of babes”?