Salena Zito

Maybe it’s time John McCain got another person to run on the Republican ticket with him besides George W. Bush. Branding is a big part of campaigning. So far, the best branding on the 2008 campaign trail has been orchestrated by the Democratic National Committee and Barack Obama. Their incessant use of every possible combination of McCain-Bush makes it hard to separate the two men from each other. The best way to combat this negative branding is pretty simple: Change the conversation. One quick way to remove Bush from the McCain ticket would be to begin a very public, speculative discussion about McCain’s running mate. Combating negative branding also can be managed by taking your opponent’s perceived weaknesses and turning them into your positive. Right now, the Democrats’ Achilles' heel is that their party is fractured between Obama and Hillary Clinton -- and the only way they seemingly can recover is to place both candidates on the party’s presidential ticket. So, Mr. McCain, why not show that your strongest opponent and chief rival in the Republican primaries -- Mitt Romney -- is in consideration to be your wingman? Picking (or at least publicly considering) Romney would show that McCain really is trying to bring the Republican Party together and that he is not somebody who holds a grudge. In an ironic sort of way, the process of elimination that delivered McCain the nomination could be the same kind of process that delivers Romney onto the Republican ticket. All of the folks McCain is screening for vice president have flaws, but Romney probably has the most strengths. Plus, Romney’s flaws already have been vetted, most notably his penchant for flip-flopping.

Democrat strategist John Lapp says that while Romney undermines McCain’s whole “straight-talk” thing -- with his flip-flopping on guns, abortion rights and human rights -- a McCain-Romney ticket has distinct advantages.

“Theoretically, as a former governor and CEO, Mitt Romney is not part of the Republican mess in Washington and he could double down on McCain’s reputation as a maverick,” Lapp says.

The person who the McCain people say is in charge of his veep search is former Reagan White House counsel Arthur Culvahouse. But anyone who knows McCain knows he will make the choice, and Culvahouse and his search committee’s job will be to approve that choice.

If McCain locked himself in a room to come up with a list -- a sort of David Letterman-like breakdown of the top reasons he should pick Mitt Romney as his vice president -- it might look something like this:

Number 1: Romney’s not running for the vice presidency. Often, you see a person who seems desperate to be veep; most of the time, such lust cancels him out of consideration. But Romney’s not running for it, and he doesn’t need it to fulfill his future ambitions.

Number 2: Romney has proven ability to raise money, attract donors and self-fund. Right now, a disparity exists between Obama and McCain in the cash-on-hand department. The two parties probably are equal on that score, but Democrats can fix that fairly quickly. McCain needs a man who can effectively raise money; Romney can.

Number 3: Romney has broad state appeal. Most people think part of the allure for a veep is the ability to bring key states to a ticket. Well, Romney is unique. He has a Northeast appeal in states like New Hampshire, a swing state that went red for Bush in 2004 -- and the GOP can use as much swing as it can get in the fall. But don’t forget Romney’s home state of Michigan or the heavily Mormon state of Nevada -- both swing states where Mormon Romney has specific appeal.

Number 4: This campaign is all about domestic issues, especially the economy, and Romney is good on economics. That and health care are two issues on which Democrats think they will really score against McCain.

Number 5: Romney is not afraid to go after Democrats really hard, all the while saying it with a smile and a clever sound bite. Romney was a very aggressive campaigner in the primaries, and that is what is needed in a running mate -- someone who is going to go out there and play tough.

Number 6: Romney’s credentials among conservatives are much better than McCain’s. He had the National Review’s endorsement, as well as that of many conservative leaders and talking-heads. He could open a reservoir of goodwill with those to the right of McCain and help to quiet some of the grumbling in the conservative base.

Number 7: Age. Romney is neither too young nor too old; his age is a perfect complement to McCain’s.

Whether McCain will consider Romney is known only to McCain. Yet a very public consideration of Romney would demonstrate a willingness to come together with somebody who was perceived to be one of his toughest adversaries, much the same way that Ronald Reagan chose George H.W. Bush or John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon B. Johnson.

It might help neutralize McCain’s ill-tempered-curmudgeon image.

And it might place the Obama-Clinton split under a harsher lens, one that magnifies the problem so that McCain can brand Democrats as fatally fractured.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.