It is not against the rules of the veepstakes to be coy when asked about the possibility of becoming vice president. But it certainly is dangerous.
A contender’s silence is a signal of the forbidden emotion: the natural human excitement that attaches itself to the thought of holding the United States’ second-highest office.
“You have to ask him,” McDonnell told Real Clear Politics in January, motioning toward Romney at a campaign event. Then, perhaps realizing that he had already said too much, the governor reverted to rule No. 1: “I’ve got the job held by Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry — there’s not a better job in America.”
Old political hands say that this kind of tactic runs the risk of looking overly forward.
“It’s the clearest signal that is given before the election about who this [would-be] president really is,” said former vice president Walter Mondale (D). He went through the process both as a selectee and a selector, when he picked Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in the 1984 campaign. “I don’t think the [candidate] should be crowded.”
There’s also a worry of ruining the surprise.
In 2004, for instance, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) had long been rumored as a potential running mate for Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic nominee — and Edwards did little to dispel that idea. “I’m going to remain silent,” he said. When Edwards was chosen, Kerry got little help in the polls.
4. There is a place to campaign. It’s just not in public.
For vice-presidential hopefuls, public silence should mask a backroom charm offensive. They should demonstrate their ability to raise money — for their party’s nominee, or for themselves. They should campaign for the nominee, if asked.
And they should keep the candidate’s secrets.
“I told a couple people on my staff, and I really didn’t tell anybody else,” Quayle recalled, after Republican nominee George H.W. Bush made an initial inquiry about the vice-presidential slot in 1988. Other nominees’ names leaked. But Quayle’s didn’t, and he considered that a test of loyalty. “I wanted him to know,” Quayle said. “That’s what he wanted, and I wasn’t going to” leak.
What they shouldn’t do is say any of this aloud.
That’s what made the e-mail from McMorris Rodgers’s office so unusual: not that she might want the job, but that she might be willing to admit it.
“I think a very good case can be made for including her in a future story about the VP contenders,” her aide wrote to reporters.
McMorris Rodgers certainly has things to recommend her: a four-term congresswoman, she is the highest-ranking woman in the House GOP leadership. In a recent interview, the aide said the idea had not come from McMorris Rodgers. In fact, she had nothing to do with it. But what was it based on?
Had the Romney campaign actually made inquiries about choosing her as a vice presidential nominee? Not so far, the aide said: “It’s never come up.”
Staff writer Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.