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A Big Decision, With Its Timing Carefully Planned

Barring a total surprise, the next big thing in the 2012 presidential race will beMitt Romney’s choice of a running mate.

Mitt Romney
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Mitt Romney

But will it be announced this week?

Political strategists put almost as much effort into the timing of a vice-presidential announcement as they do into the decision itself. Every potential moment has advantages and liabilities.

Here is a rundown of how the possible announcement dates stack up:

Early This Week

If Mr. Romney announces his selection in the next couple of days, it will come as a surprise. It would mean that the campaign was able to control just about any leaks until the last minute, catching journalists and political observers off guard.

Such an early choice would instantly double the amount of physical terrain that Mr. Romney’s camp could cover for the rest of the month. Thevice-presidential choice could spend weeks traveling through swing states, leaving Mr. Romney more time to raise money.

And depending on the pick, the campaign would have a new and possibly aggressive attack dog, ready to hit back against President Obama’s political machine.

A downside? There is still a week of Olympic competition left, so the announcement would be competing for the attention of the voting public.

Late This Week

An announcement on Thursday or Friday would have some of the same benefits. And it would overlap with only the last few days of the Olympic Games, most likely giving it heavier news media attention.

By coming at the end of the week, it would also serve as a setup for the Sunday news talk shows and the next week ahead. First impressions are critical, as Dan Quayle proved. A late Friday announcement would give journalists little time to investigate before the shows.

Of course, that process of examination would begin in earnest the following week. Reporters would have plenty of time to dig through the background of the vice-presidential selection in the weeks before the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., which starts Aug. 27.

That is one of the downsides to an earlier announcement. By the time the convention rolls around, the vice-presidential pick has already been picked over. That lessens the excitement going into the convention.

Before the Convention

A more traditional choice would be to wait until just days before the convention.

That has the advantage of providing excitement and momentum (as well as wall-to-wall news coverage) for the campaign as it charges toward its big nominating party. It also keeps the anticipation alive throughout the summer, building the announcement into an ever bigger and more important moment.

A late selection also puts off weeks of scrutiny of the running mate that could undermine excitement for the ticket. And it helps dodge a “ho hum” reaction if the choice turns out to be seen as more drab or boring than the campaign might have hoped.

But a late choice also robs Mr. Romney of several weeks of help campaigning.

At the Convention

This seems the least likely. Modern political conventions have become well-planned, highly orchestrated events in which little is left to chance. Waiting to announce his vice-presidential choice until the convention would be out of character for the risk-averse Mr. Romney.

The danger? If anything went wrong, it could ruin the event. (Think Sarah Palin, whose selection was announced just days before the 2008 convention, and the swirl of controversies that dogged her in Minneapolis.)

But a convention announcement would electrify the crowd. If it could be kept secret until the end, it could provide excitement and momentum coming out of the gathering rather than going into it. That is not a bad thing for a campaign.

So when will it be?

As it turns out, Mr. Romney is planning a three-day bus tour through battleground states that starts this Friday. It is not hard to imagine him announcing the pick (via his iPhone app) early Friday morning and then appearing at the first event with his new running mate.

Mr. Romney’s campaign manager has been having fun teasing reporters with e-mails like the one he sent to donors on Friday.

“The big V.P. announcement is coming soon,” he wrote. “The buzz here at campaign headquarters is exciting.”

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