A long vice presidential vetting process is ending for Mitt Romney's staff. And plans for debut are written.
WOLFEBORO, N.H. - Aides to Mitt Romney have pored over video footage of potential running mates, studying hundreds of hours of Sunday news show appearances, campaign debates and stump speeches for insight into how they handle unwelcome inquiries, even hecklers.
They have instructed possible No. 2's to fill out a questionnaire with about 80 detailed and sometimes intrusive questions covering the financial and the personal, including, "Have you ever been unfaithful?"
And they have listened for political intangibles that are subjective but potent, like: Is their style of speaking inviting or grating?
The Romney campaign has cloaked its vetting of possible vice presidential nominees in secrecy, imposing corporate-style discretion on the sometimes unruly political ritual.
But as the presumptive Republican nominee prepares to unveil his selection, interviews with those inside and outside the campaign offer a glimpse into the scope and depth of the three-month process and the intense lobbying that Romney has faced from donors, operatives and elected officials trying to influence his choice. (Karl Rove and Sen. Mitch McConnell, for example, have talked up Sen. Marco Rubio.)
With their leave-no-document unturned thoroughness, advisers to the candidate readily acknowledge that he is conducting a search specifically designed to avoid the kind of rushed and risky selection of Sarah Palin that ultimately bedeviled John McCain four years ago, a choice that startled Romney as much as anyone.
Do no harm to the ticket
Friends and advisers say that after assessing basic qualifications and personal chemistry, Romney has been guided by a simple principle: Do no harm to the ticket.
Romney could disclose his pick as early as this week or after returning from a trip abroad the first week of August, according to those close to him. The campaign has already started sketching out the stagecraft of a vice presidential debut.
A longtime Republican operative, Randy Bumps, who served as a chief strategist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2010 midterm elections, has relocated to Boston to oversee the rollout of the vice presidential candidate, people familiar with the move said. And a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, Kevin Sheridan, will become the communications director for the vice presidential candidate.
Aides have begun discussing how to deploy Romney's running mate on the trail and at fundraisers. Campaign officials envision having the candidate headline a combination of $30,000-per-couple dinners in big cities and smaller events in second-tier locations, to gauge which proves more lucrative.
Those who spoke about the vetting and rollout did so on the condition of anonymity, citing orders to keep them under wraps. The campaign declined to comment.
For the potential running mates, the vetting process began with a telephone call from Romney, followed shortly thereafter by another from Beth Myers, a longtime Romney confidante who is overseeing the search.
Many hands involved
The candidates filled out a form authorizing the release of financial documents and background information. A team of lawyers is responsible for assessing each prospective candidate.
Many hands are involved, but the research is done by separate teams, so that only Myers and Romney have access to the full picture at all times.
Romney has taken a hands-on role. He checks in with Myers over the phone about every other day to discuss his thinking. And the candidate, a Harvard-trained lawyer, reviews some of the background information himself.
At the end of every day, confidential materials (tax returns, investment records and real estate documents) are returned to a secure vault inside the Romney campaign headquarters in Boston.
In conversations with donors, supporters and even campaign staff members, a likely shortlist has emerged -- Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, as the two front-runners, and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as the dark-horse choices. Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, is considered a less likely possibility.