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Timing May Be Key in Romney's VP Announcement

Timing May Be Key in Romney's VP Announcement

By Scott Conroy - May 22, 2012


As Mitt Romney deliberates on his most important pre-convention political decision, the identity of whomever he selects as a running mate isn't the only choice he and the vetting team must make.

The timing of that vice-presidential unveiling can have a major impact on the race, as the experience of his 2008 predecessor demonstrated fully.

Four years ago, 38 million television viewers watched Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, shattering previous records for convention viewership and underscoring the commonly accepted belief that the Democratic ticket had an untouchable advantage in media buzz.

The glowing reaction to Obama’s prime-time address seemed to render more evident than ever the impression that Republican nominee John McCain could not compete with the history-making splendor of the crowning of the nation’s first major-party African-American presidential nominee.

But the very next morning, McCain revealed the unexpected selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, and suddenly there was a new subject of fascination in the race. Overnight, no one was talking about the Greek-columned spectacle that had taken place just hours earlier at Invesco Field, and the Republican ticket not only wiped out but reversed the substantial bump Democrats had enjoyed from their convention.

“We wanted to do it late because we knew that right after Obama’s convention, we could change the story right away,” said Mark Salter, a senior McCain adviser who was involved in the Palin rollout. “It achieved its first objective: All talk about the Denver convention ceased immediately.”

One factor beyond Romney’s control this time, however, is that the order of the conventions will be flipped. He is set to accept his party’s nomination in Tampa on Aug. 30, while Obama kicks off the home stretch of his re-election campaign in Charlotte on Sept. 6. As such, the Republican will not be able to use his VP pick to steal back the spotlight after what is expected to be another impactful Obama speech.

And as has been the case in every modern presidential race, the Summer Olympics will likely function as an unofficial blackout period for major, pre-planned campaign news rollouts.

Romney intends to fly to London to attend the festivities, as he has done for every Olympics since Salt Lake City in 2002, and his campaign likely will want to avoid competing with the international spectacle that runs from July 27 to Aug. 12.

There is recent precedent for an early vice-presidential announcement, as John Kerry named John Edwards to the 2004 Democratic ticket on July 6 of that year -- three weeks ahead of the convention.

But Kerry received no discernible bounce in the polls from that early-summer unveiling, which was in part necessitated by the July convention date that year in Boston. The lack of a boost served to remind campaign strategists that presidential politics is scarcely in the minds of most voters during the mid-summer doldrums.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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