Speculation grows about early Romney VP pick

Would Mitt Romney announce his vice presidential pick a month early to counter Democratic attacks and shift the debate about his campaign? There are signs such an historic act is possible.

That’s the growing speculation inside the Washington Beltway, after his campaign quietly announced on Monday that it has already hired two top advisers for Romney’s running mate.

Picking a running mate well before the late-August GOP convention in Tampa would be a highly unusual move, especially for someone with a reputation for careful planning like Romney.

But the candidate’s travel schedule and his efforts to research a running mate as far back as April give the reports a sense of urgency.

Naming a pick now could also shift the public Romney debate away from topics like Bain Capital and Romney’s tax returns.

NBCNews.com has an analysis of how early candidates have publicly named a running mate before a convention. John Kerry picked John Edwards about 20 days before the 2004 Democratic convention.

In every other case, the vice presidential pick came within a week of the convention, and in two cases–George Bush in 1980 and Dan Quayle in 1988–the vice presidential pick was named during the convention.

So why would Romney hire vice presidential campaign staffers more than a month before the convention?

The two staffers–Randy Bumps and Kevin Sheridan–come from the public relations world and have connections to the George W. Bush administration.

Bumps was a former political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.  Sheridan was a Republican National Committee spokesman and will be the communications director for the vice presidential candidate.

Bumps also worked for Maine Senator Susan Collins (who isn’t considered a likely vice presidential nominee).

What has fueled the speculation were remarks from Eric Ferhnstrom, a top Romney adviser, that the VP pick “could” come as early as this week.

“Technically it could (come this week), but the governor hasn’t made a decision. It will only happen after he makes a decision,” Fehrnstrom said.

On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a detailed look at how the Romney camp has evaluated potential running mates since April, which more closely fits the picture of Romney as a meticulous preparer.

The New York Times points out that Romney wants to avoid the decision process that led to Sarah Palin’s nomination in 2008.

“With their leave-no-document unturned thoroughness, advisers to the candidate readily acknowledge that he is conducting a search specifically designed to avoid the kind of rushed and risky selection of Sarah Palin that ultimately bedeviled John McCain four years ago, a choice that startled Mr. Romney as much as anyone,” it says.

The New York Timesshort list includes Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal, and Raul Ryan, with Condoleezza Rice considered a long shot.

That matches other widely reported short lists.

Rice has become an enigma in the past few weeks, receiving a direct push from Internet maven Matt Drudge. Conservatives oppose Rice’s selection based on a “mildly” pro-choice stance on abortion.

Also off the list is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, even though the New York Times said Karl Rove,  the former Bush campaigner, was pushing hard for Rubio’s nomination.

If the pick isn’t announced this week, it could come early next week, or in the first week of August, since Romney is out of the country in late July and early August.

Romney will be in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics , followed by visits to Israel and Poland.

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