“… of course, I'd be very interested.”
-- Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., talking to the Richmond Times Dispatch in August 2011 about a hypothetical request from his party’s nominee to be running mate.
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney will campaign in Virginia this week beginning what is sure to be one of most brutal state-level battles in the 2012 campaign.
Romney must win Virginia and Obama will do his best to keep him pinned down here and in North Carolina, once reliably red states that turned blue in 2008 thanks to large numbers of young voters and substantial minority populations.
Obama, who handily won Virginia but only squeaked by in North Carolina, would love to see Romney campaigning in Charlotte and Richmond in October, rather than Columbus and Pittsburgh.
Romney, who scores well with suburbanites but has struggled with rural and blue-collar voters, would like to bring the two southern states back into the Republican fold early and turn his energy to harder to win states like Colorado and Michigan.
But another part of the trip for Romney is a continuation of his ongoing vice-presidential interview process. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is quite popular in the Old Dominion and would likely be a shoo-in for a second term in 2013 if the commonwealth allowed governors to succeed themselves. His presence on a Republican ticket would no doubt help Romney in this must-win state.
McDonnell is just the latest in the list of swing-state politicians whom Romney has campaigned with since securing the GOP nomination last month. The former Massachusetts governor has campaigned with Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida, Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio and Sen. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire.
This is a very Romney way to conduct the job search for a running mate – deliberate and methodical.
Mavericky John McCain was secretive and surprising about his process. He held a cattle call for contenders at his Arizona ranch in May of 2008 but ended up picking none of them and making a final pick between, improbably, Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, and Republican Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.
McCain added drama to his process and certainly got a boost from all the speculation and, eventually, the boffo beginning for Palin. Of course, McCain didn’t foresee how the Panic of 2008 would change the election’s narrative and make a double-maverick ticket less appealing.
Obama made a more predictable choice. Unwilling to take Hillary Clinton as his running mate, he chose a less-threatening facsimile in Joe Biden. Biden helped Obama with his ongoing deficiency with blue-collar voters, who had overwhelmingly backed Clinton, but posed no danger of overshadowing the man at the top of the ticket.
Romney is not doing it like the 2008 candidates. He’s looking at this like he once did corporate mergers. His current round of swing-state campaign visits are like factory tours – sizing up the assets in person. It also helps, of course, that appearing with well-liked statewide politicians amplifies Romney’s media attention on the trips and the lingering veep speculation helps keep Romney in the news after he is gone.
The final decision will most likely come in August, and whom Romney selects will depend on market conditions at that time. No deal happens in a vacuum.
If Romney is leading, he will play it super safe and choose someone well-vetted and non-controversial who doesn’t make news, just as George W. Bush did in 2000.
If Romney is still in a dead heat, he will focus more on the electoral map and reinforcing his own positives. That’s what Bill Clinton did in 1992.
If Romney is running behind by the end of this summer, he will do what McCain did and take a chance on a less conventional pick in an effort to shake up the race – the Hail Sarah pass.
To give you a sense of how that will shake out, here are some potential candidates in each of the categories:
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark.
Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Gov. Susana Martinez, R-N.M.
(FOX News colleague Bret Baier is helpfully profiling the top contenders on Special Report with his Running with Romney series. The next installment is on Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and will air at 6 pm EDT tonight.)
The Day in Quotes
“I will not keep Americans in harm’s way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security. But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly.”
-- President Obama in a speech from Kabul defending his Afghan war strategy.
“Clearly this trip is campaign related.”
-- Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., in a statement on Obama’s Afghan visit.
“This is a reaction to Obama's visit to Afghanistan.”
-- Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claiming responsibility for bombing attacks in Kabul that killed at least seven people and wounded at least 17.
“The reality is real change is slow and it never happens all at once.”
-- First lady Michelle Obama at a fundraiser in Las Vegas.
“I'm already 68 years old. I believe Mitt Romney will become president. I believe he will do well enough to be re-elected, and I do not think in 2020 I'll be a plausible candidate.”
-- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in an interview with USA Today ahead of his official departure today from the Republican presidential race.
-- First quarter fundraising by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in his effort to prevail in a June recall election effort launched by Democrats and government worker unions.
-- Barack Obama’s advantage in Virginia’s popular vote in 2008, a 7-point victory over Republican John McCain. Republican nominee Mitt Romney begins a two-day campaign swing in the commonwealth today.
-- Average number of abortions carried out in China each day (about 13 million each year), according to the country’s National Population and Family Planning Commission. It is unknown how many are forced by government officials. Escaped activist Chen Guangcheng was arrested for suing on behalf of victims of forced abortions and sterilizations.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.