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Dawidziak: Mitt Romney's vice presidential search should go with strategy over history

This series of file photos show 12 possible

This series of file photos show 12 possible running mates for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Top row from left are: Ohio Senator Rob Portman; Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Florida Senator Marco Rubio; South Dakota Senator John Thune; Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Bottom row from left are: New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan; Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels; and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

The Republican National Convention is three weeks away. With little else to talk about during the long hot summer, political pundits have turned their attention to the bottom of the ticket.

Despite rumors that have been circulating for at least two years, President Barack Obama is not replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Nor should he. Biden, who for years represented Delaware in the Senate, was often called the third senator of neighboring Pennsylvania, having been born and raised there. He helps ensure that Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes -- a traditionally tight state in contested presidential elections -- stays blue. In addition, Biden's blue-collar-guy-made-good image helps Obama, who can appear too professorial and analytical.

The big debate rages over who Mitt Romney should or will pick for his running mate. The timing of the announcement is also a key decision. Time was when national nominating conventions were packed with drama and intrigue. In many cases, the nominees were uncertain; that led to much backroom horse-trading -- and made the conventions enormously interesting and thus major media events.

No more. The state-by-state primary process that empowered the voters to select their party's nominee has taken all the drama out of the conventions. Now they are no more than choreographed, glitzy Hollywood productions. For Romney to wait until the convention to name his selection would at least provide some suspense and bolster television ratings.

Who Romney should pick is another question. The names being bandied about seem to fall into two categories: one of historical significance or one that would help him electorally. In my four cycles in presidential politics (1988-2000) the lesson learned was, go for the real estate. Historic picks like Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 or Joe Lieberman in 2000 make headlines but don't often help win elections.

We all know how John McCain's "historic pick" turned out four years ago. In 1988, Michael Dukakis picked veteran Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate. Although popular and respected, Bentsen wasn't going to help win Texas; George H.W. Bush won his home state by 11 percent. Similarly, Al Gore's pick of Joe Lieberman in 2000 did nothing for him electorally. Lieberman too was popular and respected, but he was from Connecticut, which was going to go blue whether he was on the ticket or not. In 2000 I was asked on "Fox & Friends" who Gore should pick, and I said Sen. Bob Graham of Florida. Remember Florida on Election Night 2000? A smarter pick would have made Gore president.

So Romney has some historic choices like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. He has electoral-vote picks like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. He could also combine history with electoral votes by choosing someone like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (who said Monday that "the veep rumor is over").

South Carolina will go red regardless, so while Haley would be historic, she wins you nothing electorally. While Pawlenty is rumored to be a finalist, Minnesota has only 10 electoral votes and has gone blue since 1976. Christie has good poll numbers, but New Jersey only has 14 electoral votes and has gone blue since 1992. Florida and Ohio are the big prizes, so Rubio and Portman should be the front runners.

Most people vote for the top of the ticket anyway, so the first rule of picking a veep candidate is, do no harm. The second is, pick somebody who can help you win.

Michael Dawidziak is a political consultant and pollster.

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