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.
#ad#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.
#page#Then there is Kelly Ayotte, a freshman senator from the swing state of New Hampshire, who is just about the same age as Healey was when she became Romney’s running mate. He could go back to the same playbook and pick Ayotte, a former state attorney general who prosecuted some hideous murder cases.
Romney is known as a belt-and-suspenders man who doesn’t like to take risks. The safest choice he could make is Ohio senator Rob Portman, who could help bring critical Ohio into the GOP column. Portman, a former federal budget chief, would bring real gravitas to a Romney White House.
Another safe choice would be former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, whom Romney got to know during their time serving with the National Governors Association. Pawlenty has experience on the national stage — he ran for president but dropped out after a poor showing in last August’s Iowa straw poll — and could bring Minnesota’s ten electoral votes into play for Romney. The state, once a liberal bastion, is trending more Republican.
#ad#A new Fox News poll of GOP voters shows the most popular potential veep picks are Rice and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Romney aides have talked down Rubio’s chances in recent weeks, in part because a murky story about his use of credit cards belonging to the Republican party of Florida during his time as a state legislator would give Democrats a delicious distraction to pound away at. But Rubio can’t be counted out. Romney needs Florida, and state polls show the race there against President Obama to be too close for comfort. Rubio would also be guaranteed to fire up the enthusiasm of GOP voters and reap millions of dollars at campaign fundraisers, and he could be used as an ambassador to reach out to Hispanic voters.
Whomever Romney picks, you can be sure of one thing. While Romney aides have spoken in an off-the-record fashion about many candidates, the name of the eventual choice won’t leak before the announcement, and the Romney campaign is fully capable of putting out distracting and conflicting messages to confuse the press corps. Team Romney may not have run the most effective presidential campaign this summer. But it knows how not to leak a major announcement.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.