July 5, 2012 -- While American athletes have been competing for a top spot in the Olympic trials leading up to London, Republican politicians are engaged in their own version of Olympic sports. Think: Veep Trials, with the prize the opportunity to challenge President Obama and Vice President Biden in November.
While outspoken New Jersey governor Chris Christie is not part of the trials on this week's trail -- he surely would qualify for the hammer throwing or the shot put -- the Republicans are offering up other entries.
Track and field, men's 50 K. Campaign watchers call it bracketing. The competitors are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, shadowing President Obama's bus tour, hitting two of the same stops in Ohio that Obama is stumping in.
Driving around Ohio Thursday in a Romney for President bus (no mountain biking here), Jindal and Pawlenty campaigned on Romney's behalf as he spends time with his family (think: Olympic water sports) and undoubtedly listens to the very loud criticism coming from the Wall Street Journal, Bill Kristol and other conservative media that he can't expect to win by just talking about the economy and not providing specifics. The Journal was exceptionally harsh, writing that Romney is "slowly squandering an historic opportunity" by waffling on the tax vs. penalty semantics debate.
On a conference call only for conservative reporters, Jindal and Pawlenty came to Romney's rescue. Jindal said the president is "engaged in class warfare, divide-and-blame rhetoric, because he simply can't run on his record," according to the National Review.
As for the criticism from members of his own party and that scathing Wall Street Journal editorial, Pawlenty defended Romney, but acknowledged "there's a lot of work in front of us."
Carrying the torch for Mitt, Pawlenty said on the call that the "marketplace response to Governor Romney has been very good," according to the National Review. "He's running against an incumbent president, and depending on the week and the particular poll, he's at worst tied and maybe even a little ahead by some polls. That doesn't account for the people who are undecided, and with the down economy, those people may end up breaking against the incumbent."
But those hoping for a campaign bus face-off or a rumble in the parking lots will be disappointed. The events are at different times and venues.
As they continued their bracketing of the president's Betting on America tour—Friday they will be in Pennsylvania, as will the president—Pawlenty said because he comes from a blue state he knows "a little something about places that lean Democrat. But people really measure how they're going to vote, I think, ultimately in hard times about whether they think the person in office has done a good job and is going to make it better."
"And Barack Obama's basic slogan for this campaign is, Hey, it could be worse," Pawlenty told ABC News affiliate WTOl. "Mitt Romney's slogan is, It will be better."
The Jindal and Pawlenty duo might have been doing a good job Thursday with no visible gaffes or campaign mistakes. (The Russian judge would probably give them an 8 on balance beam.) But they are not the only ones up for the No. 2 spot who have hit the trail. On Independence Day, Romney marched in a parade in Wolfeboro, N.H., with wife Ann (the closest to the Olympics the campaign gets, she owns a horse that will compete in dressage). With the couple were five sons and many of his 18 grandchildren. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte was also on hand.
Ayotte brought along her husband and young son, but she wasn't walking with the Romneys the entire time; instead she was about 50 feet apart at some points, side by side at others. Could that be a bad sign? Well, Ann Romney actually weighed in herself on the search for a running mate saying she's been "given that a lot of thought actually" and a woman is being considered.
"We've been looking at that," Mrs. Romney said in an interview with CBS News that aired Thursday, referring to a female choice. "And I'd love that option as well. So, you know, there's a lot of people that–Mitt is considering right now."
So who's next?
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (think: long-distance running, although he actually likes kayaking) will be in Concord, N.H., on Saturday but despite being close to Wolfeboro neither side are saying yet whether Romney and Portman will have an in-person audition.
Of course the man making the decision isn't giving anything up.
"I can't tell you that," Mitt Romney (beach volleyball, anyone?) told CBS News' Jan Crawford, answering when he will reveal his running-mate. "I have an idea in mind, but that's something I'm keeping– my– close with my team."