Naming Tim Pawlenty as the best choice for Mitt Romney’s running-mate will sound crazy to some, but bear with me for a bit. Most of the media pieces about Mitt Romney’s veepstakes are geared to figuring out who Romney will pick. That is mostly a fool’s errand, especially for GOP VP picks. It may be more revealing to project ourselves to the moment after the pick is made to examine what the pick might say about how Team Romney sees the race.

Romney’s selection process is likely driven by two fundamentals — the fundamental of VP picks and the fundamental of his campaign. First, political scientists tend to think that the VP pick may be be about 2 or 3 percentage points in the VP’s home state, with even more marginal effects nationally (and those national effects of 1 or 2 points could be positive or negative). Enough people see 2012 as a close election that Romney is likely to take these nominally small effects seriously, beyond the question of basic qualifications for a veep.

Second, the fundamental point of the Romney campaign is to keep everyone focused to the maximum extent on Obama’s record, particularly on the economy. Romney should be most likely to pick a running-mate who gives Team Obama and the media the smallest opportunity for changing the subject.

Accordingly, I tend to agree with Ross Douthat that Romney will go for a boring choice, but disagree with his discounting of Pawlenty. As Sean Trende has pointed out, Pawlenty has most of the positives Romney is looking for and almost none of the negatives. Douthat and Trende sort of agree that Pawlenty’s biggest negative is that he is not exciting… but if boring is what Romney wants, this is a feature, not a bug.

By my analysis, Pawlenty’s potential negative is that he probably does not put Minnesota in the Romney column. However, if Romney picks Pawlenty, it would suggest that Team Romney feels confident Mitt can win without the sort of home state boost others might provide. In contrast, if Romney picks Marco Rubio, Rob Portman or even Kelly Ayotte, it would suggest Team Romney harbors various levels of concern about the Electoral College (and perhaps concern about Romney’s standing with Hispanics or college-educated women). If Romney picked someone like Paul Ryan, it might suggest Romney wants to change the subject from Obama / the economy and a certain level of panic in Romneyland.

I might prefer others on Romney’s likely short list as a veep pick. The electoral map may well push Romney to one of those choices. But picking Pawlenty — bland and unlikely to help politically in a swing state — may speak volumes about how Romney views his odds of victory in November.

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