Politically speaking: What matters in the choice of a running mate

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Courtesy of The Detroit Free Press

Jill Alper is a principal with a grassroots public affairs firm and an electoral strategist who formerly worked for Gov. Jennifer Granholm. John Truscott is president and principal of a political consulting firm and was formerly an aide to Gov. John Engler.


JILL ALPER: Let the public phase of the veepstakes begin! With a limited number of days between now and the convention, a big decision awaits Mitt Romney. If they’re doing it right, behind the scenes, a small group of aides has been working in a mercurial manner for months vetting the lucky few. I’ve gotten a glimpse of this process from working on multiple presidential campaigns at the national level. It is fascinating and has evolved dramatically since the nomination of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 in my party.

JOHN TRUSCOTT: You’re absolutely right. A campaign wants to make sure they get the maximum bounce out of the pick and that it helps boost the ticket. So the process is extensive and the background research intrusive. Most campaigns adhere to the concept of “do no harm” while also looking for someone who can complement the nominee. And every election cycle, the media waits with bated breath for the actual announcement. I joke cynically that it’s because they can’t wait to tear the person down.

ALPER: I’ve been shocked by the lack of leaks on both sides during this process for the last several cycles — reporters make their career by breaking a story like this. Highly trusted lawyers and a few staff do the vetting and no one talks — and somehow the families and others around the potential candidates have been quiet, too. “Do no harm” is the basic rule (though I wonder what McCain’s folks would say about that) — but the campaigns also think about what geopolitical or gender and demographic reach they can get from each choice.

Interestingly, however, serious research indicates that a VP choice doesn’t attract votes as much as it validates the leadership style and values of the presidential candidate. People are still voting for the presidential candidate, period.

Jill Alper and John Truscott

TRUSCOTT: I don’t think you can find an election where the VP pick influenced the final vote.

But just think about the photo on the final night of the convention, with the balloons and confetti falling from the rafters. Candidates want that shot to send an image of strength, competence and confidence. The suits and ties are carefully coordinated, and the staging and poses are planned. This shot has to be perfect, since it will appear everywhere the next day and likely throughout the rest of the campaign.


ALPER: Some might say Lyndon Johnson may have been the last choice to truly swing a major state in a close election.

Now the announcements don’t happen in smoke-filled rooms, but before the conventions. There are tricks to the trade of doing it without a leak — so the campaign can control completely the message. Remember Lieberman awoke to the news he was selected, and had to hop on a plane? Gore’s staff was in Nashville late the night before preparing his departure and arrival, even as he slept.

And there’s still more work to do after that, like building staff and prepping for the convention. It’s a whirlwind for the family; and you’re right — while all that craziness is afoot, the new VP candidate needs to assure the citizens that the presidential candidate has made a presidential level judgment.

TRUSCOTT: So many great stories.

On the GOP side, we’re fortunate to have a very deep and diverse bench. From some very successful governors and members of Congress with youth and ethnic diversity, to some possible choices of people who have left politics.

One long shot I’d like to throw out is Mike Leavitt, former governor of Utah and Health and Human Services secretary. He’s conservative, liked on both sides of the aisle, is very bright, has great experience and is an incredibly nice guy. I’m a big fan. But as usual, the media will list all of the names in hopes they stumble across the actual pick so they can claim they got it right.

This is a crucial decision, and I’m confident Mitt Romney will make a great choice.

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