Palin's Ghost: Portman Still Front-Runner in GOP Veepstakes

As GOP standard bearer Mitt Romney stumbles his way back to the campaign trail following a disastrous European summer vacation, the energy surrounding his vice-presidential nominee has turned into, well, a tepid buzz. His senior advisor in charge of the selection process, Beth Myers, teased the chattering class earlier this week by tweeting a list of potential VP nominees and declaring that Romney's campaign would announce the nomination through a smartphone application.

Talk about gimmicky.

Meanwhile, the ghost of Sarah Palin continues to loom over Romney's decision. Only two days ago, former veep Dick Cheney, 2008 loser John McCain and La Palin herself engaged in a mud-slinging ménage a trois over whether or not Palin was up to the task of riding shotgun on the Republican ticket four years ago. The ever-dour Cheney asserted that she was not. Ya think? McCain, who will forever bear the Palin stain on his political legacy, played Sir Walter Raleigh-on-Geritol yet again and bashed Cheney on her behalf. The half-term governor, who now appears as a bobblehead doll on Fox News, tossed an incoherent (and duplicitous) word salad in her defense, reminding the world yet again why Cheney was right.


It should be clear now to anyone paying attention that both the Republican establishment in general--and the Romney campaign in particular--are trying to distance themselves from the lingering stench of Palin and her candidacy. Myers has announced a clear and deliberate selection process that will steer clear of last-minute selections and arctic surprises.

That said, Romney's been waddling in some deep tundra this past month, caught up in a seemingly endless onslaught of questions about his role (or lack thereof) in Bain Capital and his refusal to release a meaningful chunk of his tax returns over the past two decades. His series of gaffes in Europe has further added to his campaign doldrums.

As a result, Romney's vice-presidential selection will have the effect of appearing as a game-changer, whether he likes it or not. If he goes with the logical choice--I've been predicting Ohio senator Rob Portman for months--he will have squandered his chances of altering the surprisingly stagnant dynamics of the race. If he goes with a less predictable selection--Marco Rubio or Bobby Jindal would be the two likely choices in that category, with Condoleeza Rice a longer shot--he risks the type of upheaval (and unyielding scrutiny) that drove McCain's "Straight Talk Express" into a ditch during the 2008 campaign.

It's a Faustian dilemma, as my college philosophy professor used to say. But politics is not played out in a college philosophy class, and, at some point, Mitt's going to have to make his move on the real board.

Here are the ever-shifting odds on his selection:

Rob Portman: Two weeks ago I reported word from the Romney campaign that Portman had gone through "the complete vetting process," which, based on other considerations leaked from Romney insiders, led me to conclude that Portman would be Romney's selection. He has all the bona fides and gravitas that Palin did not--he's an expert in fiscal management--plus he brings an important piece of dirt to the table. Romney's numbers have slipped significantly in the Buckeye State, and Ohio is critical to a Republican victory in November. He's still the front-runner. Odds: 2 to 1.

Tim Pawlenty: If Romney wants to concede the race, he'll pick Pawlenty. Newsweek punked out Romney as a "wimp" this week, and if he goes with Pawlenty, well, case closed. Pawlenty brings nothing to the dance but a bowl of oatmeal. Odds: 4 to 1.

Marco Rubio: If Ohio is critical to the GOP's chances in November, Florida isn't far behind. And Romney is slipping there, too. A Rubio pick may only bring the GOP point or two to the Sunshine State, but as Dems learned the hard way in 2000, a few votes can make all the difference when they tally them up in Duval County. Myers' mentor Karl Rove is also touting his case; it would bring some real juice to the campaign. Does Romney have the huevos to pick Marco? Vamos a ver, as they say on Calle Ocho. El Rubio's still hovering on the outside. Odds: 5 to 1.

Bobby Jindal: His name keeps being bandied about in the mainstream media, but does anyone remember who he supported in the primary? Hint: Rick Perry. Mitt doesn't forget--or forgive--those types of slights. Plus my guess is that Romney likes vanilla and would detest those Kenneth-the-Page comparisons. Not going to happen. Odds: 12 to 1.

Condoleeza Rice: It remains important for Romney to have a woman's name being floated as a contender (Myers also tweeted the names of New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez) and Rice would be a popular selection. Her polling numbers are remarkably strong, especially among Republicans. In a recent Fox News poll, she trounced all comers. As I noted previously, she's bright, articulate, well-educated and profoundly informed on foreign policy issues--precisely everything that Palin was not. But she's also got lots of Bush baggage. The Drudge Report indicated that she was Romney's leading contender--all the more reason to doubt it. Odds: 18 to 1.

Of the thirteen possible names that Myers tweeted last week--and they included such laughers as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (bet the farm they're not under consideration)--there wasn't the slightest hint of Sarah Palin (another not-so-subtle slap at the Thrilla from Wasilla). Myers waited to include Portman's name until her second round of tweets. That was a decoy. My bet is still on Portman. He's the anti-Palin.


Award-winning writer and filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn's best-selling The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power was published by Macmllan/St. Martin's in May of 2011.