John McCain picked Sarah Palin, a "game-changing" vice presidential candidate, but political analyst and writer Charlie Cook hopes Romney takes a different path in 2012. [See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]
Cook warns Romney should follow three rules to avoid the major VP mistake McCain made in 2008: First, do no harm. Second, find someone who can deliver a swing state and third, find a candidate who reinforces a centrist message.
"I mean John McCain clearly just reared back and let a Hail Mary go, and that is not who Mitt Romney is," Cook told an audience at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital in D.C. Wednesday. "I think that Romney is a dot-every-I, cross-every-T guy."
"If I'm Mitt Romney, I want a message of mainstream competence. I'm a turnaround guy, I'm an executive. I can run stuff," Cook said. Cook argues the drawn out GOP primary has forced Romney to the right side of the spectrum to the point where he'll need a major centrist VP candidate to recover his losses with independent voters. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP presidential race.]
Cook suggests Romney turns to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whom he called a "very competent guy," or Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.
"Did I mention Portman's from Ohio?" Cook said, referring to how Portman could help deliver the swing state for Romney in November's general election.
Cook says one of the biggest mistakes Romney could make is to try and balance his ticket with an evangelical VP.
"I hate the idea of ticket balancing, because ticket balancing basically means 'I have gaping holes in my support, and I am having to spackle up all the gaping holes.' And it doesn't work that well, and it is so obvious and so political," Cook says. "To go further over into what I call exotic land, that is a real detour if you are needing to end up [in the center]."
Cook maintains that the Bill Clinton-Al Gore ticket of 1992 delivered the perfect recipe for success.
"Bill Clinton picks Al Gore, a guy who is basically his age, his demographic and same ideology, from the state across the Mississippi River from Arkansas," Cook says.
"The selection of Gore reinforced Clinton's central message, and it was like the sum was greater than the parts."
Despite the media frenzy surrounding Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Cook says Romney should be weary of picking the junior senator who he says lacks the experience needed to be president.
"To me, the importance of picking a vice president, it is a window into the first presidential-level decision a nominee makes," Cook says. "I think [Romney] will make as conventional as a choice as the politics will allow him to do."