Search for Mitt Romney running mate in audition phase

By Kasie Hunt

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. gestures during a speech at the Latino Coalition annual economic summit, Wednesday, May 23, 2012 in Washington, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Related list: The 2012 Veepstakes: 20 possible VP picks for Mitt Romney

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WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney's vice presidential search has entered a new phase: auditions.

As his campaign evaluates potential running mates, Republicans with a possible shot at the No. 2 spot on the presidential ticket are starting to engage in unofficial public tryouts for the traditional vice presidential role of attack dog.

Democratic President Barack Obama is "the most ill-prepared person to assume the presidency in my lifetime," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared at a speech in Kentucky this week. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told South Carolina Republicans that Americans hadn't seen such a "divisive figure in modern American history" as Obama.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, speaking Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library — it's a favorite venue for Republicans seeking more attention — said Obama "wants to take us further in the wrong direction." And in an Alabama appearance earlier this month, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called Obama "the most incompetent president since Jimmy Carter."

Not that any of them — or any of the others who may have landed a spot on Romney's list — are talking about becoming vice president. Nor are any of them acknowledging they're trying out for the role or saying the Romney campaign has asked them to do so. Top Romney aides are sworn to secrecy, as are potential running mates and their staffs — an example of the Romney campaign's closely controlled, no-leaks culture.

But their high-profile appearances come just over a month after Romney assumed, for all practical purposes, leadership of the Republican Party. His vice presidential search is now well under way, with his Boston headquarters engaged in a secretive process of weighing the pros and cons of each potential pick.

With just three months to go until Republican National Convention, his campaign has little time to waste as it meticulously prepares the presumptive Republican nominee to make one of his most important decisions. With it will come implications not just for whether he'll win the White House but how he would govern the country.

Knowledge of the process is limited to a few of Romney's highest-level aides. Information is on a "need-to-know" basis — and as far as those aides are concerned, there are few people inside the Boston headquarters at 585 Commercial Street who need to know, let alone reporters and other outsiders. The Republicans who discussed the vice presidential selection process did so on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to anger a campaign that has barred people from talking about the selection in public.

The process is so secret because it's so sensitive. A vice presidential vetting is possibly the most intense background check in politics. Everything is fair game: voting records and the political past, to be sure, but also personal issues.

"You're sitting down with someone and asked if they've ever had a marital problem, if their spouse has ever cheated on them, if they've ever sought mental health counseling — that's just the beginning," said Sara Fagen, who worked for former President George W. Bush and for Romney's 2008 campaign.

If past campaigns are an indication, that level of probing will happen later, after the Romney campaign has narrowed the list to a few people who are under serious consideration. Earlier in the process, potential choices are typically asked fewer invasive biographical questions, as the campaign itself runs through all available public information.

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