The New York Times is reporting that Mitt Romney may officially select his running mate very soon, possibly as early as this week. If Romney does choose a running mate in July, it will be one of the earliest selections in presidential history. From a strategic perspective it seems announcing a running mate as early as possible is the right move.
There are a few benefits for waiting until late in the race to announce a Vice Presidential candidate, assuming you don’t need more time to properly vet the possible candidates. The naming of a running mate does guarantee the story will dominate the political headlines for a few days, so there could be some value in waiting until it is closer to election day when winning each news cycle is more valuable.
Holding off also gives a campaign more flexibility to respond to surprises. For example a breaking foreign policy or military crisis could make the campaign feel they would benefit from picking an expert on those issues.
The few possible benefits of holding off an announcement, though, seem minor compared to the bigger benefits of choosing early. One of the most valuable assets a campaign has is the candidate’s time, which is inherently in limited supply. There is always a need for the candidate to appear at campaign events, media interviews, meetings with important groups and fundraisers. These duties simply can’t be done effective by standard surrogates. The running mate, however, can actually function as a relatively decent substitute for these events. While normally not as valuable as the actual candidate, the running mate does have a level of prominence no mere surrogate can match. In 2008 Sarah Palin was even as good if not better than John McCain at drawing a crowd.
Announcing a running mate a month earlier also gives the campaign an additional month to deploy the VP candidate at events and fundraisers.
We are currently only 111 days out from the election, so if Romney announced his pick on Friday, that would give his campaign 108 days to make use of his running mate. If instead Romney waited until the Republican Convention, that would give his campaign only 68 days to deploy his VP pick, a more than 30% reduction in time to make use of his VP. Given how valuable and yet limited a candidate’s time is to a campaign, it would seem picking a running mate early is the best strategy.