Republican Mitt Romney was not going to announce his running mate
Friday at a lumberyard in Bow, N.H., not after the mass shooting in Colorado turned
what had been planned as a rally to celebrate small business into a
presidential candidate's prayerful appeal for comfort for the victims and
healing for a mournful nation.
Yet politics goes on, and soon Romney will make his choice known; he is nearing the end of a rigorous vetting process that includes an 80-question form probing potential vice presidential nominees' personal lives and finances, including whether they have been unfaithful in marriage.
All this for an office that even casual students of American history have heard portrayed as a useless pitcher of warm urine by one who held the post, John Nance "Cactus Jack" Garner, FDR's vice president. (He was more direct, and pungent.)
Still, Romney's decision is sure to be one of the defining moments of his candidacy, and one that will be analyzed for clues to his character, though history teaches us that most times, a vice presidential pick matters little to the outcome of the presidential race.
Lyndon B. Johnson helped John F. Kennedy carry Texas in 1960 and probably made a difference in other Southern states. Yet the most relevant historical lesson hovering over the selection is the 2008 pick of Sarah Palin, an inexperienced and out-of-her-depth first-term governor of Alaska named by a trailing John McCain hoping to shake up the race.
Indeed, political analyst Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia recently praised former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as "an un-Palin, perfectly presentable." T-Paw, as he is affectionately known, is believed to be on Romney's short list.
"Sarah Palin did cost John McCain some votes in 2008, and if that race was closer, her presence may have been pivotal. Thus, there probably is an increased interest in the Romney camp going with a much more vetted and safer pick this time around," said Christopher Borick, political scicence professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. "Given the likelihood of this race being very close through the fall, it would be a very unlikely and unwise decision for Romney to look at a high-risk, high-reward VP selection."
Not that it will change many voters' minds when they go to the polls Nov. 6. In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, only about a quarter of respondents said a candidate's running mate mattered a lot to their choice in November; another quarter said it did not matter at all; and 48 percent said the choice would influence them to some degree.
"The role of the vice president in presidential elections," Borick said, "is one of the most overstated aspects of American politics."
At the same time, the office's importance as a stepping stone cannot be overstated. Consider this list: Harry Truman, LBJ, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush. Of the White House's last dozen occupants, fully half were former vice presidents.
Romney has been quiet about the process, and his disciplined campaign team, while putting together a variety of scenarios for rolling out a vice presidential candidate, has not leaked details. There have been hints, however.
For one thing, almost everyone agrees that the Republican presidential nominee-to-be prizes calmness and rationality, and is thorough and cautious in
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