Determined to scramble Democrat campaign messages scrutinising the financial dealings of Mitt Romney, Republicans have sent up a distracting if not quite believable flare: Condoleezza Rice has taken pole position to join the presidential ticket.
It is the oldest trick to use running- mate suspense to keep supporters titillated and to avert the eyes of the media from more dangerous topics in the race for the US presidency – such as where is Romney's loot and when exactly did he cede control of his firm Bain Capital?
Late yesterday, the Romney campaign also gave it an unusual fund-raising twist, with an email saying the candidate's decision would be unveiled "sometime between now and the Republican convention" and touting raffle tickets for a chance to meet the pick when he (or she) is made known.
The insertion into the mix of Ms Rice, the former National Security Adviser to President George Bush and Secretary of State, came courtesy of a headline on the conservative blog the Drudge Report and gave the veepstakes some instant vim. That said, by yesterday, the notion had been drowned by a Niagara of cold water dispensed notably by conservatives who voiced their disapproval in droves.
If the Condi kerfuffle was indeed designed to distract, it would have been from last week's charge by the Obama campaign that while Mr Romney has said he left Bain Capital in 1999, just before it embarked on a blitz of shutting companies it had bought and moving jobs overseas, filings by Bain with the Securities and Exchange Commis- sion (SEC) show that he remained the "controlling person" there until 2001.
Some things might make a Condi choice stack up, not least that she is black and a woman. She is also said to have set the audience alight addressing a dinner for Romney high-rollers in Park City, Utah, a few weeks ago. On the flip side, she is pro-choice, anathema to conservatives who are only slowly coming round to Mr Romney, remains closely associated with Mr Bush and his foreign policy stumbles, and has no domestic policy record.
The evening radio host Mark Levin said choosing Ms Rice would be "bad politics". He argued: "Not only will Romney be defending Bain up through the election, now he's going to have to be defending Bush and Bush's policies right up through the election… This is a bad idea. No offence, Condi Rice."
Katrina Trinko, of the right-leaning National Review, added: "I'm surprised. Both Rice's views on abortion [she has said that she is "mildly pro-choice"] and her years in the Bush administration seem likely to generate controversy."
The Bain dossier was set alight on Thursday when an Obama staffer said Mr Romney may have committed a crime if he lied about the date he left the company. "Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony," Stephanie Cutter said. "Or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments."
Yesterday, Camp Romney continued to push back, insisting there have never been any inconsistencies in his statements.
"The Obama campaign's false, dishonest attacks aren't sticking because the facts aren't on their side," an email sent to reporters said last night.
As for Ms Rice, it may be her own past statements about her distaste for retail politics that will persuade most to take her off their Veep shortlist.Reuse content