In the latest sign of a presidential campaign in overdrive, the Associated Press ran a story last night on Mitt Romney’s potential VP picks.


It seems that after someone in the crowd at a campaign stop in South Carolina popped the question, Romney “dropped some names of potential running mates in the 2008 race, but added such speculation is a bit premature.” But it wasn’t “premature” enough for the AP — after all, the Iowa caucuses are only nine and a half months away, and Romney is the third-ranking Republican candidate!


And just like that, the world’s largest newsgathering operation gave us Romney’s “list,” heavy on southerners, including South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (a “wonderful” person), Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush (“I love him”), and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint (whom Romney is “pretty partial” to).


But did Romney’s name-dropping mean anything at all? The second half of the AP’s story ironically showed it did not.


“I have to be honest with you,” Romney replied when asked for his picks, “I haven’t given a lot of thought to that, so I don’t want to put any names in that hat right now.” (Clearly Romney did not realize that it is the press which decides when and what goes in his hat, not him.) Later came another problematic qualifier, when Romney told reporters that “the names he mentioned are part of a list of vice presidential contenders that anyone winning the GOP nomination would have to consider”: “When I’m in South Carolina,” he said, “I’m not going to fail to mention some of the ones that are closest.”


So Romney’s names could be anyone’s names, and his names are really only applicable in South Carolina. And, as the AP noted while deflating the news value of its story a bit more in the final paragraph, Romney trails a distant third among GOP hopefuls, unless you count a couple of hypothetical Republican contenders named Gingrich or Thompson, in which case he falls to fifth. Then there’s that little matter of the primary that needs to be survived before any of this becomes even remotely real.


Premature? Not in the least.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.