Mitt Romney says he hasn’t picked his vice-presidential teammate yet, but he is close. Amid all the frenzied speculation, it’s worth remembering that Romney’s been down this path before. When he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney chose Kerry Healey to run with him as lieutenant governor. That process may give us some insight into how Romney will approach his decision now.
Beth Myers, the aide who is handling the vetting of Romney’s potential running mates, was also involved in the search in 2002. She recently told ABC News that back then Romney wanted someone who could seamlessly fit into his campaign operation, govern effectively with him, and be loyal. The fact that Healey was a woman also clearly made her an appealing pick. Romney had entered the race late and was perceived as muscling a woman — acting governor Jane Swift — out of the Republican primary.
It also boosted Healey’s chances that the leading GOP candidate for lieutenant governor was considered a risk. James Rappaport was a successful businessman who had deferred to Romney in running for governor and spent considerable resources on the No. 2 race. But Romney aides worried that Democrats would brand “Romney-Rappaport” as an elitist, rich pair — a sort of “Rolls-Royce” ticket of two white guys. In addition, Rappaport had a reputation as a bit of a camera hog who sought out the limelight. In other words, not the stuff of a loyal lieutenant.
Romney swiftly winnowed down the alternatives to Rappaport. The leaders of the small GOP delegations in the state legislature either were too parochial or needed to stay in their current jobs if Romney was to govern effectively. One of George W. Bush’s cousins wanted the job, but Romney steered away from associating himself with the Bush family. Scott Brown, a young state legislator who went on to become the state’s junior U.S. senator in 2010, was attractive but just too green.
Romney aides liked the profile of Healey, who was a recently installed chairwoman of the Massachusetts state party. She was a 42-year-old professor from Harvard who had worked with the Department of Justice on criminal-justice topics. “She clearly has the smarts to take hold of issues and be a full partner in changing the state,” Romney strategist Mike Murphy told me at the time. She also had the financial ability to compete with Rappaport in the GOP primary. In the end, Romney’s endorsement mattered, and she was able to win a convincing victory at the convention.
Healey went on to serve Romney well, but ultimately failed in her own attempt to become governor in the Democratic landslide year of 2006. She believes that whomever Romney chooses this time will be the result of the same kind of thorough vetting she got. “I think he will probably look for somebody who brings something to the table that he doesn’t have, who would expand his reach,” she told ABC. “And I think that whoever it is, it is going to be important that they have a close working relationship.”
So what does Healey’s selection a decade ago tell us? At first glance, it might make us think Romney is leaning towards another female academic — former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. But Rice’s pro-choice views would play far worse nationally with GOP voters than Healey’s equivalent stance did in Massachusetts. It’s unlikely Romney would risk alienating so much of his political base with a Rice pick.