It is time for Mitt Romney to pick a running mate.
He needs to change the negative political energy around his campaign after weeks of headlines about his botched foreign trip, failure to release his tax returns and failure to defend his time as a venture capitalist at Bain Capital.
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of registered voters shows President Obama leading with 49 percent support, Romney with 43 percent support and just 8 percent undecided. And in polls of the swing states Romney is consistently trailing in all but a few.
Romney has one major opportunity before the convention to change the political narrative and that is with his vice presidential pick.
The former Massachusetts governor's public schedule for the next week includes appearances in swing states with VP contenders like Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Ohio Senator Rob Portman and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. To complete the roster of likely vice presidential picks add in Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The most remarkable feature of that line-up is that none of them – with the exception of Pawlenty – ran in 2012 for the Republican nomination.
And only Rice and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are on the list of prominent Republicans invited to speak at the GOP convention.
Santorum is also planning his own events in Tampa to reach out to his staunch supporters separately from the Romney convention. That amounts to the latest strain between the two former rivals in a season of angry interaction between Romney and Santorum.
It was Santorum who famously said Romney was “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” He also called Romney “the ultimate flip-flopper” and accused him of “lying to the American people.”
There are other strains between Romney and his former rivals.
The Romney campaign bus is rolling into the fall campaign without Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota; Herman Cain, the radio talk show host; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Donald Trump, the TV personality and businessman.
Romney may still be smarting from some of the unkind things those fellow Republicans said about him during the primary season.
Remember it was Gov. Perry who first accused Romney of “vulture capitalism,” and said Romney had long ago “lost all credibility” with conservatives.”
Who can forget that Gingrich rolled out the early attacks on Bain by charging that Romney “looted companies and broke apart families and broke apart neighborhoods,” as the head of Bain.
And Bachmann labeled Romney “the big government candidate.” She also said he was on “both sides of the abortion issue, both sides of the same-sex marriage issue and predicted that he “could not beat Obama.”
These are the Tea Party-inspired candidates who pushed Romney away from the center, moderate positions he held for most of his political life. Now he is locked into hard right positions on immigration, gay marriage and not raising taxes on the rich.
Could it be that Romney is worried these strong personalities that energize the GOP base will also scare off the independent, undecided voters he needs to break for him in the home stretch of the campaign?
Not only are many of Romney former rivals missing in action in Tampa but also former President George W. Bush won't appear in Florida.
There is only one former candidate who has not been shunned by Romney.
It is easy to forget that Tim Pawlenty was the first Republican candidate to form a presidential exploratory committee this cycle. He was also the first one to withdraw from the race and endorse Romney after a poor showing in the Ames Iowa Straw Poll.
Since then, Pawlenty has been a reliable surrogate for Romney, appearing with him at campaign events and making the rounds on television. Romney donors have rewarded the former two-term Minnesota Governor by helping him to retire the campaign debt from his own presidential run.
In the last few weeks, Pawlenty’s stock has risen in the camp as a possible running mate.
The argument for putting Pawlenty on the ticket is strong. He complements Romney’s strengths and compensates for his weaknesses.
Pawlenty is the son of a truck-driver and was the first in his family to go to college. His blue-collar roots would appeal to the white working class voters with whom Romney has struggled to connect.
After all, Pawlenty’s own father was laid off during a recession. He will be able to relate to blue-collar voters in this election who are worried about their own jobs and the economy.
If Romney is the guy who is used to signing the front of a paycheck, Pawlenty is the guy who is used to signing the back.