Who needs to be cool when all your friends are?
Welcome to the tryout stage of the veepstakes race. Monday brings Mitt Romney to New Hampshire — alongside Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who follows the close-to-Romney footsteps of other vice presidential contenders Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on the trail.
Such events mean Romney’s eventual pick for the No. 2 slot will almost certainly have campaigned at his side. It gives voters a feel for how the team will look in action — and the Romney campaign, unlike the McCain campaign, will be able to test drive the single biggest asset it will add to the mix before November.
It also will allow Romney to look cool, in precisely the places where it’s important.
The veepstakes list happens to be filled with names that hail from pivotal battleground states — Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin. Campaigning with GOP boldfaced names will draw largely flattering coverage in those states, even when the campaigning isn’t actually happening inside that state.
The Romney campaign, moreover, is giving its short-listers long leashes. There’s little crackdown from Boston while the possible vice-presidential contenders enjoy their moments of flattery back home.
The reflected glow of Republican stars means buzz for Romney during a lull in the campaign action. The famously square presumptive GOP nominee may just find the right campaign formula in the process.
The veepstakes action comes as something remarkable is happening in the campaign: The Romney campaign appears ready to cede the likability argument to President Obama.
Obama leads Romney by an astounding 38 points on the question of who’s the more friendly and likable candidate, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Romney aides expect softer-focus campaign coverage to close some of that gap now that the GOP primaries are effectively over, with Newt Gingrich’s formal withdrawal from the race this week.
But until then, the Romney campaign is content to let voters think that Obama is the cooler candidate. A Republican National Committee web ad out last week mocks Obama for slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon, while Romney gave a substantive, vision-filled speech to cap his latest round of primary victories.
The Romney campaign doesn’t care if you like Obama, so long as you don’t for him.
The Obama campaign, meanwhile, has taken a more aggressive tack as a general-election opening gambit. His campaign is using former President Bill Clinton to highlight President Obama’s decision to move in to kill Osama bin Laden — and going a step further by questioning whether Romney would have made the same call.
That ad gets closer to the heart of this campaign — a stark message that the Obama campaign is ready for battle. The candidate may be cool, but the heat is already on.