"Leaks are springing. Trial balloons are floating. Egos are being stroked. Wannabes are auditioning," says Nancy Benac at The Associated Press. The Veepstakes are in full swing, and Mitt Romney is reportedly on the verge of announcing his decision. The process of selecting a running mate is notoriously tough on the would-be Veeps, who have to undergo a thorough vetting that can reach into the most personal areas of their lives. Seeking to discover just how grueling it is, GQ's Jason Zengerle, a self-described "happily married dad with pitifully little to hide," undergoes a vetting from a veteran of John McCain's 2008 campaign. Here, a guide to the process:
How invasive are the questions?
Very. "It's like having a colonoscopy, except they use the Hubble telescope on you," former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), once a perennial VP contender, tells Zengerle. The vetting begins with an expansive questionnaire that is "more irritating" than invasive, says Zengerle. Some of the questions go back years. I mean, "do you remember your SAT scores?" The questions begin benignly enough — "What would your professors and classmates say about your performance" in college? — before ramping up in intensity. "Before long he's asking me about any past history I might have with sadomasochism," says Zengerle. "Internet-porn memberships? Sexting?" The list goes on... and on.
What if you have nothing to hide?
The process still gets to you, says Zengerle. "I am dull as dirt," so "why am I so nervous? Why is my heart racing? Have I done something bad? Inquisitions, I'm discovering, are scary even when you're kind of square." They also take a heavy toll on the contenders, with many past prospects still bitter over the personal nature of the questions, the reams of financial data they had to submit, and the way the process totally disrupted their lives. "To make people go through that kind of labor — and you're not even pregnant — was no fun," complains former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who was passed over as running mate for George W. Bush when he ran for president in 2000.
Who does the vetting?
In Zengerle's case, it was Ted Frank, who became a "minor political celebrity" after leading the vetting of Sarah Palin. (Frank maintains that the process with Palin, immortalized as a disaster in the HBO movie Game Change, was actually pretty thorough.) In the case of Romney, it's Beth Myers, a "longtime Romney confidant," say Ashley Parker and Michael Barbaro at The New York Times. "A team of lawyers is responsible for assessing each prospective candidate," and Romney himself "has taken a hands-on role." Indeed, Team Romney is "conducting the most exhaustive vet in political history," says Zengerle.
Why is Romney's vetting so intense?
In a word: Palin. The "high risk, high reward" candidate ended up weighing down the McCain campaign, and the Romney operation is reportedly looking for an "incredibly boring white guy" who, say Parker and Barbaro, meets this criteria: "Do no harm to the ticket."
Sources: The Associated Press, GQ, The New York Times, The Washington Post