More Veepstakes Vetting? Romney Fishes With Ayotte

Photograph by Winslow Townson/AP Photo

Mitt Romney and Sen. Kelly Ayotte at Jackie's Diner in Nashua, N.H., on Nov. 20, 2011.

They chatted with voters, posed for photos, and stood side-by-side behind a lectern emblazoned “Romney.”

When presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney toured a fish pier in New Hampshire this morning with Kelly Ayotte, it was more than a routine campaign stop with the local U.S. senator.

It was the second audition Romney has held in as many weeks with a young up-and-coming Republican who’s a potential vice presidential running mate.

Ayotte, a first-term senator elected in 2010, stayed on message during her try-out — most importantly, giving a polite yet firm non-comment to reporters who inquired about the likelihood that she would be considered as Romney’s No. 2.

“The governor will do a thorough vetting process and pick who he thinks is best, and I just want to do whatever I can to make sure that he gets elected president of the United States,” Ayotte said.

But would she consider being vetted?

“I just don’t see that happening,” said Ayotte, 43.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, 40, another first-termer who Republicans view as a rising star, was in the same position fielding the same question last week at this time, when he appeared with Romney at Mustang Expediting, a transport and logistics company based in Chester Township, Pennsylvania.

“I’m not talking about that process anymore,” he told reporters.

Still, both were addressing the essential yet little-discussed elements of the so-called “veepstakes.” These events are chances for presidential candidates to test their chemistry with potential running mates, gauging their personal comfort level and the pairing of their campaign styles.

Boarding the Julie Ann II, a commercial fishing boat at the Portsmouth fish pier, Ayotte stood off to the candidate’s side as he listened to complaints about burdensome regulations that local fishermen said were hurting their business — so far to the side, in fact, that she was outside news photographers’ shots of her potential ticket mate.

On the deck of the Allana Renee, the next boat, Ayotte managed to place herself next to Romney, even jumping into the conversation to ask whether the fishermens’ families had stayed in the business or sought out another profession.

She also laughed at Romney’s attempt at humor. When told the Alanna Renee was named for the owner’s wife — as is the tradition with such craft — Romney quipped: “Not the girlfriends? Or former girlfriends?”

And by the time she arrived at the lectern with Romney, she was primed to give a glowing introduction. As the crowd chanted his first name, Ayotte joined in: “Mitt! Mitt! Yes!”

“I just have one message for our fisherman and to every small business owner in this country, who struggles every day to earn success and fights for the American dream: Help is on the way!” Ayotte said.

It was a line from Romney’s April 24 primary-night victory speech in which he declared himself the Republican nominee — and good practice for the campaign ahead.

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