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First Thoughts: Don't bet on an early VP pick

While we’re bracing for Mitt Romney to make his VP pick as soon as this week, here is something to consider: If history is any guide, Romney won’t announce his selection until next month.
Image: Mitt Romney
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pauses during a speech to the NAACP annual convention, Wednesday, July 11, 2012, in Houston, Texas.Evan Vucci / AP
/ Source: NBC News

Don’t bet on an early VP pick: While we’re bracing for Mitt Romney to make his VP pick as soon as this week, here is something to consider: If history is any guide, Romney won’t announce his selection until next month. Indeed, in modern times, the earliest a pick was made -- John Kerry tapping John Edwards in 2004 -- was less than three weeks before the Democratic convention began. Outside of that, every other running mate since 1980 has been selected NO EARLIER than a week before the convention began, if not afterward. And right now we are out six weeks until the Republican convention in Tampa. So Romney could very well go this week, but he’d be making an earlier pick than any other presumptive presidential nominee in modern times. For his part, Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters yesterday that “no decision has been made” on vice president.

Here are when the past VP selections were made:

Palin was picked on Aug. 29; GOP convention began on Sept. 1

Biden was picked on Aug. 23; Dem convention began on Aug. 25

Edwards was picked on July 6; Dem convention began on July 26

Lieberman was picked on Aug. 7; Dem convention began on Aug. 14

Cheney was picked on July 25; GOP convention began on July 31

Kemp was picked on Aug. 9; GOP convention began on Aug 12

Gore was picked on July 9; Dem convention began on July 13

Quayle was picked on Aug. 16; GOP convention began on Aug. 15

Bentsen was picked on July 12; Dem convention began on July 18

Ferraro was picked on July 12; Dem convention began on July 16

Bush was picked July 17; GOP convention began on July 14

*** Piling on Romney: Last month, after weeks of negative press, President Obama and his campaign took plenty of incoming criticism. And this month -- after the focus on immigration, health care (is the mandate a penalty or tax?), Romney’s taxes, and his tenure at Bain Capital -- everyone is beginning to pile on Romney and his campaign. In Businessweek, Josh Green raised the prospect of the “wimp factor” dogging the former Massachusetts governor. “[H]aving made up his mind not to release more tax returns—but feeling compelled to go on television Friday anyway—Romney instead attempted the political equivalent of an NBA player flopping to catch the ref’s attention and draw a charge by demanding that Obama apologize for the mean things said about him.” And in National Journal, Michael Hirsch wrote that Romney risks getting “Dukakis-ized.” Ouch.

*** Romney in 2D, not 3D: Also in National Journal, Charlie Cook explains why these attitudes -- in the press and among voters -- is potentially damaging to Romney: because he is so undefined. “Puzzlingly, the Romney campaign has offered very little to build up its candidate as a real human being, someone of character who’s worthy of being entrusted with the Oval Office,” Cook writes. “Given his campaign’s ample financial resources, the decision not to run biographical or testimonial ads, in effect to do nothing to establish him as a three-dimensional person, has left him open to the inevitable attacks for his work at Bain Capital, on outsourcing, and on his investments. It’s all rather inexplicable. Aside from a single spot aired in the spring by the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, not one personal positive ad has been aired on Romney’s behalf.”

*** Today’s back-and-forth: The Obama campaign isn’t taking its foot off the gas. With Romney holding a town hall in Irwin, PA (right outside of Pittsburgh) at 1:20 pm ET, the Obama camp is up with a new TV ad in Pennsylvania drawing attention to Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns prior to 2010. “Tax havens, offshore accounts, carried interest -- Mitt Romney has used every trick in the book,” the ad goes. “Romney admits that over the last two years he’s paid less than 15% in taxes on $43 million in income. Makes you wonder if some years he paid any taxes at all.” The ad concludes, “What is Mitt Romney hiding?” For its part, the Romney campaign is once again making the charge that the Obama administration’s loan guarantees -- like to Solyndra -- benefited Obama donors. “While the president’s political allies reaped the benefits of half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds, American workers lost everything,” the Romney camp said in a statement today. “Middle-class families deserve better from their president.” The RNC has this accompanying video. But here’s a problem for the Romney camp/RNC charging that Obama bundlers have benefited from the administration: The Romney camp has so far REFUSED to release the name of its own bundlers.

*** On the trail: While Romney campaigns in Pennsylvania this afternoon, President Obama heads to the Lone Star State. “Obama will start his Texas trip with a fundraising event at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center in San Antonio for a fundraiser hosted by actress Eva Longoria, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzales and others. The president will attend a second fundraising event while in town,” USA Today writes. “Obama then heads to Austin Tuesday afternoon for a fundraiser hosted by the LGBT Leadership Council. The event will be headlined by the singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, and tickets range in price from $250 per person to $7,500 per couple. He later will head to another fundraising event hosted by Tom Meredith, Dell's former finance chief. The Austin American-Statesman reported last week that campaign officials believe he can break a fundraising record with the biggest single-day haul in Texas political history.”

*** Is taxing the wealthy popular? According to a new Pew poll, the answer to that question is yes. “By two-to-one (44% to 22%), the public says that raising taxes on incomes above $250,000 would help the economy rather than hurt it, while 24% say this would not make a difference,” pollster Andy Kohut emails. “An identical percentage (44%) says a tax increase on higher incomes would make the tax system more fair, while just 21% say it would make the system less fair.”

*** DISCLOSE Act gets blocked: Over on Capitol Hill yesterday, the Senate blocked consideration of a Democratic measure to force the disclosure of hidden donors who give money to tax-exempt groups airing political TV ads,’s Tom Curry writes. “The bill fell nine votes short of the 60 it needed to move ahead to debate and final passage. Donors to tax-exempt 501c4 and 501c6 groups aren’t required to be identified publicly; this cloak of secrecy has encouraged some contributors who might fear publicity to invest heavily in trying to influence voters through TV ads. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D- R.I., would require any donor who gave $10,000 or more to a 501c4 group that spent money on political advertising to be identified and disclosed.”

*** Tim Pawlenty’s strengths… : In our latest profile of Romney’s potential VP picks, we take a look at former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (whom NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews today). STRENGTHS: Though once a rival for the GOP presidential nomination, Pawlenty has become a constant and loyal surrogate for the Romney campaign… His conservative credentials are rock-solid, which would please the GOP base (opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, is an evangelical Christian)… His Midwest roots and clear middle-class/working-class background (his mother died when he was 16; his father lost his job at a trucking company) could be advantageous to Romney… As someone who has run for president before, Pawlenty is more than familiar with the national scrutiny and high-profile debates…. Could he put Minnesota in play? On the one hand, he’s a former two-term governor of the state. On the other hand, he never received 50% or more in those two races. In 2006, he barely won re-election against challenger Mike Hatch (D), 47%-46%, and he might have lost had not Hatch referred to a female reporter as a “Republican whore” right before the election. In 2008, by comparison, Obama won Minnesota, 54%-44%.

… and his weaknesses: WEAKNESSES: There are some holes in his conservative record (signed 75-cent fee on cigarettes into law, once championed initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases)… How much do conservatives really like Pawlenty? Remember that despite going all-in to win it, he finished a disappointing third to Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at the 2011 Ames Straw Poll; the day after that third-place finish, Pawlenty dropped out of the presidential race… How much does Pawlenty owe Romney? According to an analysis by USA Today, more than half of the political donations Pawlenty received after he suspended his campaign -- to pay down his debt -- came from Romney donors… Pawlenty recently joined the board of Smart Sand, a Pennsylvania firm that has built a large frac sand plant in Wisconsin. That sand is used in a controversial process to extract natural gas from rock.

Countdown to GOP convention: 41 days

Countdown to Dem convention: 48 days

Countdown to Election Day: 112 days

Records in a George Romney archive at the University of Michigan describe how questions about his eligibility to be president surfaced almost as soon as he began his short-lived campaign.

In many ways, they appear to echo today's complaints that Trump and some other conservative "birthers" have made about Obama while questioning whether Obama - whose father was from Kenya and mother was from Kansas - was born in Hawaii.

In George Romney's case, most of the questions were raised initially by Democrats who cited the Constitution's requirement that only a "natural born citizen" can be president.

As early as February 1967 - a year before the first 1968 presidential primary - some newspapers were raising questions as to whether George Romney's place of birth disqualified him from the presidency.

By May 1967, U.S. congressman Emmanuel Celler, a Democrat who chaired the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, was expressing "serious doubts" about George Romney's eligibility.

The next month, another Democratic congressman inserted a lengthy treatise into the Congressional Record in which a government lawyer - writing in a "personal capacity" - argued that George Romney was ineligible for the White House because he was born outside U.S. territory.

Deja vu
In what today might seem like deja vu, eminent legal authorities soon were queuing up to argue in favor of George Romney's eligibility.

The New York Law Journal published a lengthy argument by a senior partner from Sullivan & Cromwell, one of Manhattan's elite law firms, arguing that the fact that both of George Romney's parents were U.S. citizens clearly established him as a "natural born citizen" who was eligible to be president.

George Romney himself was unequivocal.

"I am a natural born citizen. My parents were American citizens. I was a citizen at birth," he said, according to a typewritten statement found in his archives.

At one point, the Congressional Research Service - an arm of the Library of Congress that is supposed to provide authoritative but impartial research for elected members - advised that its analysts agreed with George Romney, according to a congressional source.

In a paper in November aimed at clarifying presidential eligibility, the Congressional Research Service declared that the practical, legal meaning of "natural born citizen" would "most likely include" not only anyone born on U.S. soil but anyone born overseas of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen.

Romney's dance with Trump
Mitt Romney has tried to avoid getting caught up in Trump's focus on Obama's birthplace.

"Governor Romney has said repeatedly that he believes President Obama was born in the United States," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Romney.

However, the presumed Republican nominee has not distanced himself from Trump, creating what some analysts said seems to be a quiet endorsement of Trump's efforts to raise questions about Obama among voters.

Michael Cohen, special counsel to Trump, said that Trump and Romney never talk about issues Trump has raised elsewhere regarding Obama's birth certificate. Instead they talk about jobs, the economy and other matters of public policy.

Asked whether Trump sees any double standard in going after Obama when Romney's father faced similar questions about his presidential eligibility, Cohen told Reuters: "I don't think (Trump) has ever thought about Mitt Romney's father's birth certificate."

Cohen said Trump recently revived the issue of Obama's birthplace because journalists asked him about the issue after a right-wing website published an old blurb for an Obama book that suggested that Obama was born in Kenya. The literary agent who wrote the blurb subsequently said it was written in error.

Cohen said Trump believes "the president of the United States should be the single most transparent human being on this planet. This president lacks that transparency."