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Former Romney Adviser: Veep Hunt Could Lead To Portman

Republican strategist Mike Murphy, November 2007.
Alex Wong
Republican strategist Mike Murphy, November 2007.

Mike Murphy, the very quotable Republican political consultant who has listed some of his party's biggest names as clients, including John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger, has some advice on picking a vice presidential running mate.

In a conversation about what qualities Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, might seek in a person to fill out his national ticket, Murphy told NPR's Melissa Block on All Things Considered Tuesday the worse thing to do is to go for the wow factor, the political equivalent of a sugar high that provides an immediate buzz but leads to a later collapse:

"I'm from the old school which is 'first, do no harm.' Because the truth is, nobody votes, other than immediate family, for the vice president as a reason to vote for the president.

"Instead, voters look at who you choose as a message about who you are. So the worst thing you can do is pick somebody who sends a message either that you're not making good decisions or you frankly pick somebody who's a little more of a sparkler than you are. Then you start suffering by comparison.

"So the incentives when you're sitting around the convention thinking about it saying hey we need a miracle pick, a wunderveep who can win the campaign overnight, we've got astronaut Jack Bag- Of-Donuts here.

"The problem is you have two risks. One is, if they're not a professional politician, and even in an anti-political year, they may not be good at all the dinosaur wrestling you have to do to survive in the modern media environment.

"So you want somebody with the skills of politics, somebody the media knows so they don't have a spastic attack reaction. And finally someone who is loyal and is not going to steal the spotlight from the star which is you.

The conventional wisdom, which gets people in trouble all the time is "our guy is buttoned down and not that exciting. So we ought to go to Vegas and see if we can get Wayne Newton or something to, quote, 'balance the ticket.'

But all you really do is make your guy look worse because of the comparison. It's like the old Hollywood agent rule. If I'm Robert Redford's agent and the studio calls up and says: 'Hey, we're going to do a Redford movie. We know he's old but he's great, one more movie, a cop movie and there's a side role and guess what? We're thinking of Brad Pitt. If I'm Robert Redford's agent, I'm saying we're thinking of Ernest Borgnine. Because it's all about Redford, not the up and coming star next to him.

For many of these same reasons, Murphy, as many will recall, was down on McCain's choice of Sarah Palin from practically the moment her selection as 2008 Republican nominee's running mate was announced. His wasn't exactly a popular view initially within the party but many people eventually came to see its wisdom.

Because of that experience, he's pretty certain those vetting Romney's potential vp pick will go the cautious route which is Romney's style anyway.

Murphy counts Romney among his past clients. He worked on the 2002 campaign that led to Romney winning the Massachusetts governorship. He also calls Romney a friend.

Given that, who does he think is on Romney's vice presidential radar?

"Mitt's a grown up and he's going to want a grown up vice president who knows how to tame the explosive budget spending and get the economy going again. So when you look at the names, you know the usual suspects are Marco Rubio, Rob Portman of Ohio, maybe the governor of Virginia (Rob McDonnell) there are a bunch out there, Paul Ryan.

I think ultimately Portman will be very attractive to him because he's a budget expert from the OMB and he has an Ohio background, he's competent, he's vetted, and I think they get along well."

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.