With the Republican presidential nomination in Mitt Romney's pocket, the "veepstakes" have begun in earnest, and Romney has assigned longtime adviser, Beth Myers, to lead the search for a vice presidential nominee. As the political world chatters about potential VP candidates, Romney himself insists it's still "way too early to begin narrowing down" the list of potential running mates. So how will he begin the process? Here, six key questions he'll need to answer:
1. Should Romney try to win over women?
"The last time Romney picked a running mate — when he ran for governor of Massachusetts — he picked a woman," says Jonathan Karl at ABC News. Selecting a female running mate could pay off this year, too. With President Obama sitting on a big polling lead among women, some political strategists predict that the gender gap could determine the election. "There aren't many high-profile Republican women in elected office right now, but you can expect Romney to take a close look at those who are," including Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and two governors, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Susana Martinez of New Mexico — although both have "firmly denied interest in the job." Another long-shot possibility? Former Secretary of State Condi Rice, who tops the VP wishlist of GOP voters in a new poll, but has also rejected the notion.
2. Or does he need a Latino veep?
"Latinos could be the key to the White House in 2012," says Alex Altman at TIME, "but the GOP's immigration policies have cost the party in the polls." One way to chip away at Obama's lead among Latinos, the nation's fastest-growing demographic group, is to choose a Latino running mate. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is a strong candidate, though he swears he won't be on the 2012 ticket. Seventy-two percent of Latinos polled by Spanish-language network Univision said they didn't feel welcomed by today's GOP, and picking Rubio, Martinez, or another of the party's rising Latino stars might change some of their minds.
3. Should he reach out to social conservatives?
"It's no secret that Romney needs help with conservatives, who have slapped the Massachusetts Moderate label on him and are loathe to embrace his candidacy," says Jessica Iannetta at NextGen Journal. Romney could help solve this problem by tapping a conservative like erstwhile primary rival Rick Santorum or 2008 candidate Mike Huckabee. The considerable downside: "Their social conservatism could drive moderates and independents" away, and "bring social issues such as abortion and contraception to the forefront of the conversation, distracting from Romney’s economic message."
4. Or focus on shoring up support in swing states?
Demographics aren't the only consideration when picking a VP, says David A. Fahrenthold in The Washington Post. Running mates can also help "swing a key state." That's why Romney could be tempted to choose New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who would be a big help in neighboring Pennsylvania, says Alan J. Steinberg at New Jersey Newsroom, or Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, another crucial Electoral College prize that could go either way in November. And Rubio or former governor Jeb Bush might help in Florida, which some see as a must-win for Romney.
5. Does Romney want to gamble?
Mitt could always throw a "Hail Mary," says George E. Condon Jr. at the Boston Herald, and shock everyone with a pick so surprising that it will instantly "alter the dynamics" of the race. Ronald Reagan tried that in 1976 when he announced that, if nominated, he would choose liberal Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate. In 1984, Democrat Walter Mondale "went for the first-ever female running mate in Geraldine Ferraro." And of course, in 2008, Sen. John McCain "surprised everybody and got a short-term boost in the polls when he picked Sarah Palin." But Mitt ought to remember: "None of the three 'Hail Mary' picks paid off in the long run."
6. Or play it safe?
"The chief consideration, people who have been through the process agree, is do no harm," says Albert R. Hunt of Bloomberg News. "Running mates can help marginally; they can hurt substantially." Romney has to ask himself whether he's better off settling on another experienced, mainstream, non-devisive white male, says Michael Barone at the Washington Examiner, instead of risking a more "balanced" ticket. If he goes the "double-vanilla" route, the leading options are House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, and Govs. Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Bob McDonnell of Virginia. "A double-vanilla ticket will be attacked as un-diverse by the media. But if the nominees have rapport and energy, as Clinton and Gore did in 1992, who cares?"