Every summer, millions of Americans enjoy baseball, summer camps and vacation plans. But for the nation's political junkies, every fourth summer is filled with guessing games about the vice presidential nomination.
While the guessing games are fun, it's more accurate to look at the fundamentals facing the candidate and what he hopes to achieve.
In the case of Mitt Romney, he is in a much better place than John McCain was four years ago. McCain was trailing badly in the polls and likely to lose unless he swung for the fences and hoped for a home run. That led him to make a risky pick and elevate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to national prominence.
Romney, however, is currently ahead in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and a slight favorite to win in November. He doesn't need to swing for the fences; he needs to avoid making a foolish mistake.
Additionally, the Romney campaign wants the election to be all about President Obama and his record on the economy. Just 33 percent now give the president good or excellent marks for handling the economy. That's down 8 points from 41 percent just over a month ago. It's no coincidence that declining ratings for the president coincide with declining consumer confidence and poor jobs reports. Romney doesn't want those economic realities drowned out by a controversial vice presidential pick.
That means the ideal nominee for the Republican challenger is someone who looks capable of becoming president if needed but is bland enough not to distract attention from either Romney or the president's record.
Political pros will endlessly analyze the process Romney follows for clues as to how he might govern if elected. So far, the process appears to reflect what you expect from public perceptions of the candidate — buttoned-up and methodical. But more important than the process of selecting the nominee will be the way the choice is rolled out to the public.
At that moment, all eyes will be on the newly famous nominee. More than likely, most Americans will learn all they know about the new name on the ticket during the week the candidate is introduced.
Consider, for example, Sen. Rob Portman from Ohio. Many see him as the frontrunner in Romney's veepstakes. He looks solid, has been reasonably well vetted in public and comes from a key swing state. His biggest negative is having served in the Bush administration, but every candidate has drawbacks — and that's more manageable than some others.
Still, the way Portman is introduced to the public will matter more than his resume. Half the nation's likely voters (47 percent) have absolutely no opinion one way or the other on Portman. They don't know who he is. Another 43 percent have only soft opinions. They're not sure they know who he is. Just 11 percent currently have strong views one way or the other.
That means, if Portman is selected, nine out of 10 Americans will have their opinions shaped after the nominee is picked. Portman, by the way, is the rule, not the exception. Some other prospective nominees are even less well known than he is.
So enjoy the summer guessing games for now. But discount most of the political analysis until you see how Romney's choice survives his or her introduction to the nation.