Will leaked Romney VP shortlist be enough to distract from Bain, taxes?

July 19, 2012

For the last several weeks, President Obama’s re-election campaign has managed to keep GOP challenger Mitt Romney on the ropes with attacks on his company’s outsourcing , the exact exit date by which he left that company and his lack of transparency with his tax returns. (Though Romney keeps saying he’s released two years’ worth of taxes, he’s only released one year’s worth, for 2010. His taxes for 2011, the second year, are unfinished — and don’t have to be finished until October — and he’s released only a summary.)

Romney’s shot back, first saying the attacks were below the president’s dignity, now trying to shift the focus altogether by accusing the president of “crony capitalism.” After so many years of being accused of being a socialist, Obama may well have welcomed the chance of being swiped by anything that associates him with capitalism; but the charge was so badly put together, the Washington Post shot it down pretty quickly, giving Romney Four Pinocchios, its most serious rating for political lies.

To be clear, the polls aren’t moving on any of the Obama campaign’s charges: Things are as locked and even as they’ve ever been. But both campaigns are playing the long game — these accusations, in fact, build on the Obama campaign’s ads from three months ago which echoed Newt Gingrich’s ads about Romney’s “vulture capitalism.” Romney’s betting that the only things that matter will happen in the fall. Still, sympathetic media and even some in his own party, are calling for a different approach.

So how, then, can Romney distract the electorate, and perhaps more importantly at this stage of the game, the media?

Can Romney distract the electorate, and perhaps more importantly, the media?

My guess is that he’ll do an early VP announcement. He wasn’t originally scheduled to do it until closer to the Republican convention in August, but I’m betting that it’ll be closer to the Olympics now (where he’ll also need to draw attention away from his athlete-horse — unless he wins).

Given all the blather from Ann Romney about the women candidates, you’d have thought Romney might have shortlisted New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a freshman with serious anti-Planned Parenthood and law and order creds, or New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who hates illegal immigration. Ayotte could have blunted some of the anti-woman rhetoric coming from the GOP, and Martinez — the first Hispanic governor of any U.S. state and the first female governor of New Mexico — would have probably put New Mexico in play and maybe even tipped neighboring Colorado.

Instead, Romney’s leaked short list includes Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. (Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t anywhere near it. Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan is also said to be on it, but I’m not buying it. And rumors about Condoleeza Rice are just that — Romney’s said his VP choice will be pro-life and Rice is pro-choice.)

But, honestly, there’s not a lot of mystery on this list. Jindal, the first Indian-American governor of any U.S. state, is there to make the GOP look inclusive. Choosing him would be historic, but it’s not going to happen. Jindal would overshadow Romney and the Romney campaign knows it. Pawlenty, nice guy though he may be, brings nothing to the ticket — Minnesota is not swinging and Pawlenty, though he was a former majority leader in the House, is a lackluster campaigner even by his own accounts.

Still, if he has great chemistry with Romney — and this seems the most salient quality in the search — Pawlenty may trump Portman, the most likely pick. Portman is as bland as they come but he has two strong things in his favor: He comes from an Electoral College-rich swing state, and he has current congressional experience.

In other words, wring enough sentimentality out of enough Ohioans and Portman could take it for Romney. And once in the White House, Portman’s senate experience becomes a crucial governing tool.