With the pre-premature talk about Mitt Romney's vice presidential choice beginning to gather steam, I'd like to add a cynical voice to this important decision. Experience has taught me that the VP selection doesn’t matter much. My observation is that the vice presidential pick doesn't drive any votes, and the first and only real rule in making the pick should be “do no harm.” Following this rule is harder than you think.
Next, remember that the short burst of excitement that fills the air after the announcement of the selection only lasts for about three seconds. Then there is the debate between the vice presidential nominees that gets huge media coverage for an event that will have no discernible effect on the election results no matter what happens.
The media coverage of the vice president’s portion of the campaign ends just before Election Day with dispatches from the mournful correspondent who was assigned to the VP traveling news corps. The stories start with: “Are you wondering what ever happened to the vice presidential campaign of ____________? Well today, we are at the Fall Pumpkin Festival in Nowheresville, USA” ...
Given all this, I think the VP nominee should be selected as early as possible, and the choice should be mostly cynically poll-driven.
The choice should be made early so that the ticket can have another fundraising surrogate on the road as soon as possible. To raise money for the fall campaign is, in part, a mathematical equation. You raise X amount of dollars per event, and you can have X number of events per week. The sooner you announce the VP, the more fundraising events that person can headline, and the more money the campaign will have.
Second, after the presidential candidate’s team checks the boxes of whether or not the person is plausibly qualified, polling and focus groups should make the decision.
The only exception to the fact that the VP doesn't drive any votes might be that the candidate could make a difference in his or her home state. But John Edwards did not deliver North Carolina in 2004, so even this calculation is suspect.
But if polling shows that a VP candidate could deliver a key state that Obama would need in a close race, then that person should be picked. If Rob Portman could deliver Ohio, that would be a no-brainer. Ditto Paul Ryan in Wisconsin, Chris Christie in New Jersey and Marco Rubio in Florida. Anyway, let's not pretend we get any benefit from waiting until the convention. Let's not think we can bring some sort of regional or ideological balance to the ticket that would make voters vote for the GOP nominee. It is the top of the ticket that matters. Period.
And finally, unless there is an early announcement, let's not talk about the VP pick too much for another two or three months.