The Washington Post

The strategy behind the vetting process

In response to an ABC News report that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wasn’t being vetted for Republican vice-presidential candidate, Mitt Romney himself stepped in to aver that he is indeed under consideration. This  was a minor embarrassment for Romney; the notion that the campaign wouldn’t even allow that Rubio qualified for the relatively low bar of “being vetted” was insulting and needed to be clarified. (

But there is vetting for vice-presidential candidates, and then there is vetting. It is easy and smart for a campaign to have a relatively expansive list at the beginning for at least three reasons: first, it signals to various geographies and constituencies that you care about them; second, it does the “mentioned” the favor of being mentioned. In 2000, I had several elected officials ask me if I could put them in the mix for potential running mate for the sole reason of enhancing their prestige. And finally, a large group of potential foxes makes it harder for the newshounds to zero in on their prey. It is still considered a major news scoop to break the choice of the running mate, even if only by minutes.

The first round of checking out potential candidates is fairly casual: Their voting records and public financial statements are scrutinized. By the final round, the investigation has reached into the kindergarten transcript and the dental records phase, or should — because there is one overarching rule of selecting running mates: The big surprise should be no surprise.

You should first do what Romney’s campaign is not doing: Shut up about the process. Indeed, today there is another story about how the Romney camp favors former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. ( ) (I am sure this makes Sen. Rubio happy.) The selection process brings out the casual but destructive leaker: The process lasts so long and the desire for news is so great that those who don’t know are given a chance repeatedly to demonstrate that they do.

Finally, having kept the selection process and the selection itself locked down, the unveiling should go smoothly. This is the job of the investigators to probe every possible irregularity and potential embarrassment. For the truth is, most vice-presidential candidates, like most first-round draft picks in the NFL, are more interesting right before and right after their selection. The excitement should be around the suspense and the announcement itself; if it is still exciting a week later, something went wrong.


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