WILMINGTON, Del. — The Republican primary campaign effectively ended yesterday, and Mitt Romney’s aides and supporters have already begun turning their attention to their biggest choice of the next five months: The running mate.
Just hours after Rick Santorum left the race, voters at a rally here Monday were already clamoring to find out who would join Mitt Romney on the presidential ticket.
“I’m here to announce today that I do not even have a list!” Romney replied to a supporter’s question.
But Romney does have a plan: One long-time GOP operative said Romney staffers are quietly circulating that former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, who joined the campaign as a “volunteer” advisor last week, will “take the lead” on the search for a Vice President.
The search, and the vetting that accompanies it, are likely to be conducted with particular intensity because senior party operatives are still reeling from their inability to defend vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in 2008. Party leaders expect the Romney camp better take the process seriously this time around, and everything about Romney’s own methods suggest a careful, deliberate process. But Romney’s team itself is extremely light on general election experience, and they’re turning to a cohort of old-time GOP hands in developing a strategy to win in November.
“Every candidate approaches the running-mate selection process differently,” said one Romney advisor. “Governor Romney will approach it with the same level of seriousness he does every important decision.”
Asked whether the vetting process had begun, one senior Romney aide told BuzzFeed, “Nothing like that is going on right now.” And Romney echoed the sentiment on the stump, telling supporters here that Santorum’s decision to drop out came as “a surprise,” and that the campaign would only now begin preparing for the general.
“A lot of these decisions about the campaign will be made this week,” Romney said.
There has been also been widespread speculation in GOP circles that Charlie Black, a veteran and well-respected Republican operative, would lead the team considering potential running-mates, but Black says he’s not involved.
“I have not and do not expect to be involved in it,” he told BuzzFeed. “[It’s] usually a job for lawyers.”
The shadow of the Palin pick is undoubtedly weighing on Romney’s team.
“Because of 2008, there will be no slack given on the preparedness question,” Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s campaign manager, told BuzzFeed.
Republican operatives say that Romney will have to vet his running-mate more deeply than ever done before.
“It’s not going to be pretty,” said Rick Wilson. “It’s not only about whether they paid their taxes, but are they ready to face the cameras and have they ever said anything that get used in an ad. You never had to deal with this YouTube archive before.”
“In this hyper-connected Internet world, what passed for vetting a few years ago is now grossly inadequate,” he said.