Advancing a Free Society

Of Tea Leaves, Grocery Carts and Running Mates

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

To those who can’t wait for Mitt Romney to choose his running mate, here’s a word of advice:

Patience – we’re almost there.

It may seem like forever since the presumptive Republican nominee began his vice-presidential search (“forever” being the time that’s elapsed since May 30, when Romney clinched the nomination by winning the Texas primary). Indeed, the soup-to-nuts scouring of the political landscape, though frustrating to reporters, has been a bonanza for gamblers with more than 1.8 million bets having been made on potential Romney mates (such wagering is illegal in the U.S., but perfectly fine at such venues as the U.K.’s BetFair).

Not that the political media haven’t found creative uses of their time – for example, sifting through Romney’s groceries earlier this week to see if said shopping expedition offered any veepstakes clues (with a cart full of Wild Cherry Pepsi and Greek yogurt, the choice could just as easily be Chris Christie . . .  or Michael Dukakis.)

Stay tuned to see what’s next for Romney’s press posse: dumpster-diving, horoscopes, numerology . . . feng shui?

Here’s what I’m looking for in terms of white smoke emerging from Romney’s chimney: Ann Romney’s travel plans. The candidate’s wife has been at the London Olympics, where on Tuesday the horse she co-owns was eliminated from the Summer Games’ dressage competition. Figuring the presidential nominee won’t hold the obligatory coming-out press conference without his wife standing by his side, we won’t be close until Mrs. Romney is safely back on American soil.

Meanwhile, a look back at recent veepstakes competitions shows Romney’s selection process, drawn-out though it may seem, might actually be ahead of schedule (that is, if he announces the choice later this week rather than drifting closer to the 2012 Republican National Convention’s kickoff on Aug. 27).

As you’ll see:

  • 2008 – Joe Biden joins the Democratic ticket on the Friday before his party’s national convention; Sarah Palin likewise is tapped the Friday before her party’s convention;
  • 2004 – John Edwards gets the call a full 20 days before that year’s Democratic National Convention (the Bush campaign promptly rolling out this tv ad suggesting that yet another John (McCain, not Edwards) was John Kerry’s first choice;
  • 2000 – Dick Cheney becomes George W. Bush’s running mate six days before that year’s Republican National Convention; Joe Lieberman partners with Al Gore a week before his party parties in Los Angeles;
  • 1996 – Jack Kemp, the candid and loose-cannon “bleeding-heart conservative”, is Bob Dole’s surprise pick the weekend before the GOP’s convention;
  • 1992 – Al Gore is Bill Clinton’s surprise choice (an all-Dixie ticket) four days before the Democrats’ convention;
  • 1988 – Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen becomes the second half of the Democratic “Boston-to-Austin” ticket four days before the convention; in an even bigger surprise (“stunning” might be a better way to describe it), George H.W. Bush taps Dan Quayle on the day he arrives at the GOP convention in New Orleans;
  • 1984 – New York Democratic Rep. Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first woman on a major-party ticket just four days before the Dems’ big gathering in San Francisco;
  • 1980 – George H.W. Bush gets the call from Ronald Reagan on the third night of that year’s GOP convention (here’s a fascinating examination of how the Bush dynasty almost never came to be, as recalled in the pages of the Hoover Digest by Richard Allen, the Reagan White House’s first National Security Adviser).

What that rundown tells us: only once in the last 32 years has a running mate been unveiled more than a week before the national conventions began. Twice, it occurred during the convention (Reagan’s choice of Bush and Bush’s choice of Quayle seen, respectively, as a plus and a minus). But the rule of thumb: four to seven days before the convention commences. And for Romney, that would mean waiting until August 20 or so to make the big announcement.

Until then, the guessing game of who’s in/who’s out continues. This much we do know: the GOP nominee begins a bus tour on Saturday that will take him through Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. Two possible running mates – Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman – will be along for the ride. The tour stops in Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio’s home, on Sunday – same day as the Olympics’ closing ceremony.

Meaning: Romney is probably close to a final decision.

But not close enough for Republican ticket-watchers.