Charles Dharapak, AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, celebrates his Florida primary election win at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The 2012 Veepstakes: 20 possible VP picks for Mitt Romney

Now that Mitt Romney has nailed down the Republican nomination, speculation has turned to his choice of a running mate. Polls are being taken — Condoleezza Rice is in first place, followed by Rick Santorum — and all kinds of analyses are being written. All are speculation, and most are wildly off the mark.

Still, although the speculation is pointless, the importance of the decision is not. It is the first truly "presidential" decision a candidate makes and tells a lot about his personality and thought processes. A little history:

Jack Kennedy, a political tactician, offered the slot to Lyndon Johnson because he was sure the proud Texan would turn it down and thus give Kennedy freedom to go elsewhere. He was stunned when Johnson accepted.

Richard Nixon, concerned about his reputation as a lightweight, chose Henry Cabot Lodge, a well known Republican figure. He thought that would add weight to the ticket. He seethed when many suggested that Lodge added so much weight that he should head the ticket, and the next time he ran, Nixon chose an unknown, Spiro Agnew.

Jimmy Carter, Georgia governor, turned to Walter Mondale, Minnesota senator, because he decided that he needed a northerner on the ticket. Ronald Reagan flirted with Gerald Ford and picked George H. W. Bush because he wanted an "Establishment Republican" to help him unite the party. Barack Obama, a very junior senator, chose a very senior senator, Joe Biden, to bolster the ticket's foreign policy credentials. John McCain, a moderate senator, picked a conservative governor, Sarah Palin, to make conservatives happy.

So, knowing what we do about Mitt Romney, what might he do?

When he ran for governor in Massachusetts, his running mate was Kerry Healey, a Harvard graduate who got her Ph.D. in political science and law from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Some take that as an indication that he will look for a talented woman — current polls suggest that he needs more support among women — with significant credentials.

Maybe, but the fundamental question is this — will he look for someone to help him win the election, as Kennedy, Nixon, Carter and McCain did, or will he look for someone to help him govern, as Reagan, Obama and George W. Bush did? (Bush was told by Karl Rove that Dick Cheney brought nothing to the ticket in electoral terms; Bush said he didn't care. He saw Cheney as one who would bring experience and good judgment into the administration.)

My own hunch is that Romney will opt for someone who could help him govern, partly because that fits his personality — he's a problem solver who values competence — and partly because history shows that the vice presidential candidate seldom makes any difference. Lodge did not cost Nixon his first election and Agnew did not help him win the second one. Exit polls show that Palin hurt McCain, but not enough to have been responsible for his loss. Ironically, the one VP candidate most cited as having helped win an election — Johnson, who carried Texas for Kennedy — is the one that Kennedy did not want on the ballot.

The economy continues to throw off conflicting signals as to where it will be in November, and polls between Romney and Obama change almost daily, so the pundits, with little else to write about, give us a flood of speculative stories about Romney's choice and keep bringing up new names. They should relax. This decision will not come in response to editorial urgings or timetables. It will be made by Romney and announced only when he decides to do it. That's "presidential."

The 2012 Veepstakes: 20 possible VP picks for Mitt Romney

Robert Bennett, former U.S. Senator from Utah, is a part-time teacher, researcher and lecturer at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.