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Picking Romney’s Veep: Who Will Pass The P.O.E.-P.A.A.R.-P.A.L.I.N. Test?

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns at Carter Machinery Company, Inc., in Salem, Va., Tuesday. (AP)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns at Carter Machinery Company, Inc., in Salem, Va., Tuesday. (AP)

Who will Mitt Romney select as his running mate? There are three phases of review.

P.O.E. — Process Of Elimination:

You can remember this phase by thinking of Edgar Allen Poe. The master of mystery and the macabre knew how to eliminate characters.

By P.O.E., Romneyites crossed off dozens of would-be contenders — pols they would not bother vetting. Some aren’t credible because they have too little experience (N.M. Gov. Susana Martinez). Some have too much baggage (former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani). Some publicly, convincingly, took themselves out of consideration (Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush).

P.A.A.R. — Political Aides & Ann Romney:

Remember this acronym by thinking of Jack Paar, the host of “The Tonight Show” who preceded Johnny Carson. The affable Paar would not invite back certain guests who upstaged him in comedy and conversation. (After fast-talking comic Jack E. Leonard wowed the crowd, days later Paar told his studio audience: “You’ll be seeing a lot of him in the future — but not on my show!”)

Romney’s aides and his wife, Ann, don’t want a running mate to outshine their candidate. They don’t want someone who is so impressive and appealing that Republicans say they wish the ticket was reversed. That’s why I believed the initial report that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was not among those being vetted. After that leak, Romney announced that Rubio was indeed being vetted — but what else could he say after this insult to the popular Hispanic Senator of a key swing state?

Romneyites don’t want a running mate who would enjoy more affection and loyalty from conservatives than their own candidate. That would also eliminate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (adored by fiscal hawks, but not social conservatives) and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (admired by nearly all conservatives).

P.A.L.I.N. — Polling, Affinity, Leadership, Integrity, No-Risk:

This acronym should be easy to remember. Sarah Palin is the opposite of what Romney wants in a running mate.

POLLING:

Romney advisers will study polls and focus groups to be assured that a VP choice would not be unpopular. Palin was only known in Alaska, a safe Republican state, and there wasn’t time to test her potential popularity in swing states. Poll-testing could be the undoing of a candidate like Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell because some of his positions on women’s issues could be problematic for Romney, who already has a big gender gap.

AFFINITY:

John McCain barely knew Sarah Palin and they didn’t have great chemistry in campaigning. Romney wants a mate he likes, respects and trusts as a working partner. This eliminates former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The two have gotten along better since their feud in 2008, but they are not close.

LEADERSHIP:

In the ’08 race, Palin did not seem presidential. In a few TV interviews she didn’t even seem vice presidential. Romney knows that his selection will be judged as a test of his executive decision-making — did he choose someone who could handle responsibilities in the Oval Office if necessary? A VP doesn’t just have to be smart and successful, it’s also a question of personality. That might knock out Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. He is a true intellectual leader but, after his poor TV performance in responding to a State Of The Union address, many concluded that he lacked gravitas. Indeed, some thought Jindal resembled MAD Magazine cover boy, Alfred E. Neuman.

INTEGRITY:

Shortly after the Palin choice was announced, news about her past caught the McCain campaign off-guard. It was soon clear that the vetting of her was inadequate. Romneyites don’t want to be surprised by revelations about a running mate. They will be inclined to pick someone who has been thoroughly vetted as a candidate in past races. That further narrows the list to three prospects widely speculated about: South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

NO-RISK:

Palin was a little-known, long-shot gamble. The McCain camp felt it needed a “game changer” because its candidate was falling in the polls. But Romneyites now feel the opposite — they are optimistic that they are on their way to victory. However, they also realize that it’s going to be a close contest and one or two swing states could be the margin of victory. So they might conclude that the biggest risk is to assume Romney will win without help from the Veep nominee.

Of the three prospects, Thune doesn’t seem to have the potential to carry a swing state. So scratch him. Portman represents Ohio, a crucial swing state — no Republican has won the White House without carrying it. Pawlenty is thought to have more populist appeal (“the GOP should be the party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club”), which could make the difference in a too-close-to-call swing state.

If both Portman and Pawlenty pass the P.O.E.-P.A.A.R.-P.A.L.I.N. test, who will Romney pick?

My guess is Pawlenty. He and his wife are now good friends with Mitt and Ann Romney. Pawlenty knows the country and its political obstacle course as a former presidential candidate and, since bowing out of that race, he’s been a hard-working surrogate for Romney. Personality-wise, Pawlenty has a bit more pizzazz than Portman. And unlike Portman, he did not serve in the Bush administration so he would be a smaller target for liberal critics.

In 2008, McCain’s choice reportedly came down to Palin versus Pawlenty. In 2012, Pawlenty might be the anti-Palin again.

This program aired on June 27, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Todd Domke Twitter Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

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