Political prognosticators didn’t see GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate coming — but it was hardly the first time a candidate has defied the expectations of the chattering class.

Although Ryan enjoyed strong support from conservative Republicans and leading conservative publications, the consensus seemed to be pointing to Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) as Romney’s likely choice. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was in second place, according to prevailing wisdom.

The selection of Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican usually mentioned in the second tier on prognosticators’ lists, threw many for a loop.

But the surprise shouldn’t have been a surprise: The media cognoscenti don’t have particularly sparkling track records when it comes to predicting vice presidential selections — especially when it comes to the GOP candidates.

Most of the Democratic vice presidential picks made at least a few of the Great Mentioners’ lists: Walter Mondale (1976), Lloyd Bentsen (1988), Al Gore (1992), John Edwards (2004) and Joe Biden (2008). Gore’s pick of Joe Lieberman (2000) might count as a mild surprise but hardly stunning.

The only real surprise was Mondale’s selection of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. There had been chatter about Mondale picking a woman for the No. 2 slot, but most thought Dianne Feinstein was the leading candidate in that category. Republican picks have been pretty much shockers to the punditocracy, at least in the past four rounds: Sarah Palin (2008), Dick Cheney (2000), Jack Kemp (1996) and Dan Quayle (1988).

Ronald Reagan’s pick of George H.W. Bush in 1980 and Gerald Ford’s pick of Bob Dole in 1976 weren’t great surprises.

On the other hand, maybe the prognosticators were right and Romney was leaning toward Portman . . . but somebody might have informed Romney that Portman and Sen. John Kerry are good buddies; they have been seen frequently on morning bike rides.

And Romney and Kerry despise each other. Kerry is even going to play Romney in President Obama’s debate prep.

Ahead of the game

Even if the professional political-forecasting crowd didn’t have Ryan as the odds-on favorite to be Romney’s vice presidential pick, some Loop fans did.

We asked in April for your predictions of whom Romney would select. Lots of you figured it would be Portman or Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. We even got a few wacky dark horses ( Ted Nugent or former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, really?).

But some of you correctly picked Ryan, including our winners, Kevin Sturtevant, a fund-raiser for a nonprofit from Silver Spring, and Howard Cohen, a public affairs consultant from North Hills, Calif.

Congratulations, and enjoy those coveted Loop T-shirts coming your way.

Ambassador’s stewardship

New details are emerging about the resignation of Scott Gration as U.S. ambassador to Kenya last month, revealing what an inspector general’s report called dysfunction, security lapses and poor morale under his stewardship.

Gration, though, says the report is riddled with inaccuracies.

Gration, a retired Air Force major general who voted for President George W. Bush but in 2008 campaigned for Barack Obama to be president, stepped down ahead of an impending inspector general report critical of his leadership.

That report — a scathing document detailing Gration’s failed management of the embassy in Kenya — was released Friday.

“The Ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission,” the report said. In a blunt assessment, the report found his leadership to be “divisive and ineffective.” He directed staff to work on projects with “unclear status and almost no value,” it said.

It also portrayed him as a bit of a freelancer who did not read classified front channel messages, used commercial e-mail systems instead of secure government ones for official business (including work that included the use of sensitive materials) and ignored U.S. government policy.

“The Ambassador’s greatest weakness is his reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions,” the report found, citing “his disagreement with Washington policy decisions and directives concerning the safe-havening in Nairobi of families of Department employees who volunteered to serve in extreme hardship posts.”

The report also said he was unavailable to meet with senior staff. “In his first year in Kenya he has met only between a third and a half of the prominent Kenyans the mission recommended he see in his first 100 days in country,” the report said.

In an interview, Gration strongly disputed the report, saying it included many factual errors. He said he was “disappointed” by its conclusions and defended his record of leadership.

For example, he said that his use of commercial e-mail was never a security threat, noting that at one time he headed information security for the military. And he denied the accusation that he didn’t meet with all the Kenyans he should have, saying that he and top embassy officials created a list of those he needed to see personally. “I met with everyone on that list,” he said.

He acknowledged that his desire to shift the embassy’s agenda might have upset some staff members and prompted them to criticize him. “I did rock the boat,” he said. “I made changes in priorities, and changes can be very hard.”

He said that he hadn’t spoken directly to Obama but that the president “was aware of my situation.”

With Emily Heil

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