Mitt Romney enters one of two remaining windows for announcing VP choice

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, iPad in hand, talks with his son Josh by Lake Winnipesaukee at his home in Wolfeboro, N.H., on Saturday.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, iPad in hand, talks with his son Josh by Lake Winnipesaukee at his home in Wolfeboro, N.H., on Saturday.
Evan Vucci/AP

Mitt Romney visited Louisiana today, raising money and meeting privately with Governor Bobby Jindal, a prospective running mate, as he entered one of two remaining windows for announcing his vice presidential pick.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has from today until the end of next week to announce a pick, before departing for the Summer Olympics in London and visits to Israel and Poland.

Romney’s second window opens around Aug. 12, when the media dominance of the Olympics ends, children in many parts of the country head back to school, and the Republican Party gears up for its national nominating convention in Tampa, Fla.

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It runs from Aug. 27 through Aug. 30.

During either period, Romney will reveal his pick and make the first presidential-level decision of his campaign. He will assert to voters that his choice is equally capable of running the country if they are elected this fall and something were to happen to Romney during the subsequent four years.

In weekend conversations, senior aides were reluctant to speculate on the likely choice, but one raised Jindal unprompted, before also selling the prospect of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Pawlenty was the target of a profile today in The New York Times, which reported that friends believe Romney has already settled on his choice.

Senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, traveling with a Romney press pool in Louisiana, said, “No decision has been made on VP,” but he conceded that an announcement could come this week.

There are hints that this week—and possibly overnight—could be the time for Romney’s announcement.

Fehrnstrom’s statements themselves broke with a cone of silence that has largely enveloped the vetting process since April, when Romney put top aide Beth Myers in charge of the search.

And after his fund-raising trip to Louisiana, Romney starts a two-day swing through two battleground states.

He will stop Tuesday outside Pittsburgh in Irwin, Pa., and then Wednesday in Bowling Green, Ohio.

The former is a short drive from Ohio, the latter home to Senator Rob Portman, who has been an active Romney surrogate and has long been considered a leading choice for his running mate.

Portman’s background as a former House member, Bush administration trade representative, and Office of Management and Budget chief gives him serious financial and political credentials, dove-tailing with Romney’s key campaign theme of economic competence.

In addition, the Darmouth College graduate is said to be a favorite of the Bush family, who have come out one after another to endorse Romney.

The Romney campaign knows well that no Republican nominee has won the presidency without claiming Ohio and its lode of 18 electoral votes. And Pennsylvania is a classic swing state with its own bounty of 20 electoral votes.

Romney’s visit to each state would draw maximum attention were he to be accompanied by his freshly minted running mate—especially if it were a local figure like Portman. It would also help change the media narrative after last week’s reports about whether he actually left Bain Capital before some of the company’s investments engaged in layoffs or bankruptcies.

In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry brought his campaign to Pittsburgh before revealing the next day at an event in the city that he had selected John Edwards as his running mate.

This week, the Romney campaign is staffing up for its battleground visit, bringing on former national press secretary Kevin Madden to assist with the traveling press corps.

Romney’s schedule for the remainder of the week has not been announced, though he is expected to be back in Boston on Thursday. A major media contingent is also expected to assemble in the city.

That could be a prelude to a weekend launch, or provide Romney and the new nominee the chance to catch their breath, engage in a requisite series of sitdown interviews for weekend use, and then head out again for several days next week before Romney leaves for Europe.

Announcing his pick during the first window of opportunity would also give Romney a surrogate campaigner domestically while he is overseas. With the spotlight focused on the Olympics and Romney’s travels, the new nominee would have the opportunity to practice his or her stump speech before large audiences but without the full media glare.

It would also provide the Romney campaign with a high-profile surrogate to attend fund-raisers while the presidential nominee is overseas, a locale where Romney plans to raise money but federal restrictions on foreign donations winnow the donor pool.

Romney was unusually quiet this past weekend, despite taking the July Fourth week off and with just 113 days to go until Election Day.

He spent Saturday and Sunday at his home on Wolfeboro, N.H., appearing in full view of photographers on Lake Winnipesaukee but in a dress shirt and jeans—far from the casual shorts and t-shirts of his vacation week. He was seen reading off his iPad and checking his cell phone.

The Romney campaign also passed up a prime campaign opportunity, a NASCAR race nearby in Loudon, N.H.

Romney had made a point to visit the Daytona 500 in Florida in February as he sought to lock up the GOP nomination, but this past weekend he skipped a similar race in another battleground state—New Hampshire—although he was just 30 miles away.

Choosing during the second window would give Romney a much more traditional launch to the final phase of the general election campaign.

Tapping a running mate just before the Republican National Convention would build enthusiasm for the party gathering and send a jolt through delegates as they head to Tampa.

It would also minimize the window of media scrutiny on the vice presidential pick, which one Romney aide once likened to “solar glare.”

In either case, expect Romney and his choice to spend most of their time focused on battleground states, like the ones the GOP nominee is currently scheduled to hit—alone—beginning tomorrow.