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Romney risks playing running mate hand too early

By Peter Hamby, CNN Political Reporter
updated 11:13 AM EDT, Tue July 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • If Romney makes his pick this week, he will break with conventional wisdom
  • Rarely has a presidential candidate announced his veep pick more than a week before the convention
  • "There is no decision on V.P.," a Romney adviser says
  • Prospect of V.P. pick is not farfetched, source says

Washington, DC (CNN) -- Mitt Romney has a reputation for pragmatism, deliberation and playing it safe.

But if Romney reveals his vice presidential pick this week, as the latest round of campaign chatter suggests, he'll be throwing out the traditional campaign playbook that says a running mate should be announced around a national party convention for maximum impact, just as voters are starting to pay attention to the campaign.

Rarely has a presidential hopeful gone public with his running mate selection more than a week before his party's convention.

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As the Washington Post noted on Monday, John Kerry became the lone exception to that rule when he announced John Edwards as his running mate on July 6, 2004 -- at the height of summer vacation season and almost three weeks before the Democratic National Convention in Boston. The move did little to boost Kerry's standing in the polls.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain announced their running mates just days before their conventions in 2008 in order to maximize media attention on the campaigns and their messages.

Still, speculation has swirled for months that Romney might break with tradition and play the vice presidential card early, as Republicans wondered if the nominee might need a sidekick to assist with a robust campaign and fundraising schedule in the wake of the divisive GOP primary fight.

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The imperative to do so faded, though, as polls showed the general election race essentially tied, both nationally and in several battleground states. Romney also showed off some surprising fundraising muscle in May and June. It seemed like he could afford to wait.

But the early V.P. chatter was renewed on Monday when the New York Times reported that Romney has already settled on a choice, and that he could make the announcement as soon as this week.

Romney strategists tried to tamp down the talk.

"There is no decision on V.P.," Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters on Monday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

And yet the rumor mill keeps turning. Romney has now added a campaign appearance for Friday in New Hampshire, where he owns a home and announced his presidential bid last year, feeding speculation that he may announce the pick before the weekend.

More importantly, Romney is facing withering offensive from the Obama campaign over his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns and his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital.

Announcing a V.P. pick now might give the Romney team a chance to change the subject. It tried on Monday by rolling out fresh criticisms of President Obama as a "crony capitalist," but the effort did little to move the needle.

The only thing that did seem to draw the media glare away from the Bain free-for-all was last week's trial balloon on the Drudge Report that Romney is seriously pondering former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his No. 2.

Report sparks speculation of Rice as Romney running mate

So should Romney announce his pick this week to stir up some much-needed positive news coverage before the London Olympic Games and beach vacations consume the attention of voters?

A number of top Republicans say no.

The main reason is this: Announcing a running mate offers a campaign the rare opportunity to drive a message on its own terms, so why waste that opportunity in the summer when voters are not yet fully tuned in to the campaign?

"You don't run one of your best secret plays to win the second quarter," said Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, who advised Romney's 2008 presidential bid. "It's silly season. Summer. Makes no sense. Everything will be 100 times more important later. Patience, Obi Wan."

Veteran GOP operative Jim Dyke voiced similar concerns. While picking a running mate early would instantly double Romney's ability to make news and raise money, the Olympics might quickly "drown out" any vice presidential bump.

Revealing the pick this week instead of next month would "take away the ability to extend convention by building announcement out from there," Dyke said.

Another Republican, who declined to be named because he is close to some of Romney's potential running mates, said the prospect of an announcement this week is not far-fetched. But he also said time is running out if that's going to happen.

"If they want to pop it at the end of this week, I think it's possible," the Republican said. "You are going to run three solid days of news on it through the weekend, so I don't know if that's the best strategy or not. But in the 24/7 news cycle, breaking news on Friday may not be as bad an idea as it has traditionally been perceived to be for news you want to make ... The only plausible opportunity this week is probably to do it in New Hampshire on Friday, or over the weekend, but the telltale signs have to start emerging soon if it's a large public event."

What is certain is that only a few Romney hands know the details of the vice presidential selection process, making this year's iteration of the "veepstakes" -- a quadrennial feeding-frenzy of gossip and often ill-informed speculation -- one of the most secretive and leak-free endeavors in recent memory.

Asked about the timing of the running mate announcement on Tuesday, one Romney confidante responded with a cheeky email: "Some time before the convention."

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