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Analysis: Romney will pick Portman — and here’s why

By Paul West:
Like the stages of grief, the buzz about the Republican vice presidential nominee is about to enter its final phase: acceptance — at least for those on the Republican right. That’s because, with every passing day, it’s increasingly likely that Mitt Romney will reject a more ideological, movement-style conservative and announce instead that he’s running with Sen. Rob Portmanof Ohio, a well-regarded member of the party establishment.
This is only a guess, of course, and hardly rates as a “wow” if it turns out to be accurate.

Conventional wisdom already favors Portman, the Intrade betting choice to be Romney’s running mate. A recent surge of neoconservative promotion for a trio of alternatives — Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — is, if anything, a countervailing indicator; Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, the leading promoter, has never been a big Romney fan and probably figures that a different pick has already been made.

In an effort to build suspense, Romney has enlisted potential running mates in a series of events that are widely seen as public tryouts, whether or not that is actually the case. The latest: a four-day Romney campaign swing that starts Saturday, featuring Portman, Rubio, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in supporting roles.

Romney has kept his deliberations secret, but the data driving the decision — a process of elimination involving a number of potential choices — are available for all to see.

The biggest problem facing the presumptive Republican nominee is a lack of support from women voters, especially unmarried women. National polling that shows Romney in a close race with President Obama also finds that he trails the Democratic incumbent among women by as much as 20 percentage points. A running mate who could help close that enormous gender gap would be a powerful choice.

Unfortunately for Romney, there appear to be no good options there. Two of those most often mentioned — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte — were first elected in 2010. They have very little national seasoning, a larger-than-usual hurdle thanks to the GOP’s ultimately unhappy experience with Sarah Palin. Another longshot pick, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, would bring foreign policy heft that Romney notably lacks. But her “mildly pro-choice” views on abortion would trigger a social-conservative mutiny that Romney can’t risk.

Other VP possibilities have a variety of shortcomings.

Rubio, a Cuban American, is the only person Romney has said that he was vetting (to quash a report that he wasn’t, which figured to make matters even worse with Latino voters). But picking him could prompt days or weeks of unhelpful media scrutiny into Rubio’s personal finances. Besides, if Romney can’t win Florida on his own, he’s unlikely to do well enough in other swing states to get elected.

Gov. Bobby Jindal comes from Louisiana, already safely in the Romney column. It’s hard to see how either he or Pawlenty could do enough to help Romney carry any of the battleground states he’ll need to win in an election as close as this one.

McDonnell, the popular governor of swing-state Virginia, got tangled up over an antiabortion measure in the state Legislature this year that would have required women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound test. Dredging up the controversy would hurt Romney among women voters nationally and might well outweigh the benefits in Virginia.

Ryan is unlikely to make enough of a difference in his home state of Wisconsin, where Obama is favored, and his role as the GOP’s budget architect would only inflame an issue — preserving Medicare —that is already a potential liability for Romney.

Christie’s blunt-spoken independence makes the New Jersey governor a risky choice, thus violating one of the cardinal rules for an ideal running mate: In addition to having no skeletons in the closet, the perfect No. 2 has to give a solid convention speech, shine in the vice presidential debate — and otherwise stay discreetly in the background — while helping carry a key state in November.

Portman, better than Romney’s other choices, meets the job description. He proved his debating skills by prepping both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for fall TV debates in past campaigns. He’s discreet, which should please Romney, who abhors leaks. He has a reputation as a serious lawmaker able to work across party lines, with budget and trade expertise that meshes with the campaign’s central theme. Perhaps most important, he’s also likely to add a point or two to Romney’s total in Ohio. Not a big number, but it could be enough to flip the ultimate swing state in 2012.

A surprise VP pick would be out of character for the cautious, conventional Romney, but if he’s got one up his sleeve, he’s likely to reveal it very soon. The last thing his campaign wants is a media scramble over his running mate that overshadows the carefully scripted national convention at the end of the month.

A safe and boring pick, by contrast, might only be good for burst of publicity that would fade in a matter of days–which argues for waiting, perhaps until the week before the delegates gather in Tampa, Fla.

That’s why each day that passes without an announcement from Romney makes it more likely that Ohio’s junior senator will get the call.

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Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

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