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Will buzz over VP fizzle with a predictable pick?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
July 19, 2012 -- Updated 1902 GMT (0302 HKT)
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, right, campaigns with Mitt Romney in January 2012.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, right, campaigns with Mitt Romney in January 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: It created buzz when it looked like Rice or Rubio might be VP pick
  • If list has narrowed to two white men, he writes, it would be a lost opportunity for GOP
  • Republicans could be the first to put a Latino or black woman on the ticket, he writes
  • Navarrette: Tea party loves Rubio and he would appeal to Latinos, which Romney needs

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

(CNN) -- Was Marco Rubio just the flavor of the month, and now the month is over? Was Condoleezza Rice's name floated to stir momentary excitement, and now the moment has passed?

Welcome to the GOP vice presidential sweepstakes, which seems poised to go from historic to ho-hum, from Earth-shaking to business as usual.

For the last few months, it looked like Mitt Romney was prepared to throw the long ball and use his selection of a running mate to do something really daring and significant that would excite the base and win over the undecided.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

But, in recent days, media reports have surfaced suggesting Romney might ultimately decide to play it safe and retreat to his comfort zone.

This week, The New York Times reported that the short list has narrowed to just two names: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. Other stories also make clear that Pawlenty and Portman are the vice presidential frontrunners, but they also mention another, less-likely prospect -- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Pawlenty: Romney doesn't need a 'flashy' veep

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Pawlenty can help Romney in 'other ways'

Suddenly, there is nary a mention of Rubio or Rice, much less New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez, whose name was also floated. With the exception of Jindal, who is Indian-American, it seems that most of the color has drained out of the short list.

This looks like a familiar tease, one used by Democrats and Republicans alike when selecting vice presidential nominees. It starts with casting the net wide, and floating the most diverse set of names possible to give voters the impression that the campaigns put a high premium on diversity. "Look," they seem to be saying, "everyone gets an opportunity to be considered."

Granderson: For Romney, a 'safe' choice for VP is a big mistake

Before you know it, the supposed "short-list" isn't so short. Then, in the end, quickly and without explanation, the choices narrow and diversity goes out the window. And we're supposed to accept it, and give the campaigns credit for at least putting forth the semblance of being inclusive.

I'm tired of this dance. I have nothing against Pawlenty or Portman. Both have valuable attributes, and they deserve to be seriously considered as possible running mates. In fact, in 2011, when Pawlenty was still running for president, I wrote a column for CNN.com in which I praised his quiet competence.

And it doesn't hurt that Portman -- in addition to his debate skills and very substantial resume, which includes the executive experience of being a former director of the Office of Management and Budget and the foreign policy experience that comes from being a former U.S. Trade representative -- is also fluent in Spanish.

A new poll this week from Latino Decisions finds that President Barack Obama has widened his lead over Romney among Latino voters to a staggering 48 points: 70% for Obama compared with 22% for Romney.

Republicans are headed for defeat, unless they learn how to communicate with Latinos, and Portman can do that in a language that many of them understand. Even those of us who speak English appreciate it when politicians make the effort to speak to our parents and grandparents in Spanish.

Still, what a disappointment it would be if -- after all the speculation about Romney choosing a woman or a minority, or a minority woman -- we were left again with two white males representing a party that likes to see itself as a big tent even if few others see it that way.

Two white males on a ticket. Been there, done that.

Opinion: Should Romney take a risk in picking VP?

In both major parties, it's not exactly unprecedented to have one white male choose another. Two exceptions: Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008. But, for the most part, white males are the rule in the veepstakes: Lloyd Bentsen was chosen in 1988, Al Gore in 1992, Jack Kemp in 1996, Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman in 2000, John Edwards in 2004, and Joe Biden in 2008.

Talk about a wasted opportunity. What would it have meant if, after more than 50 years of happy talk from Democrats, when the time came to act, it was actually a Republican who put the first Latino or first African-American woman on a presidential ticket?

For one thing, it would have meant that Democrats would have been put on the defensive, and forced to explain to some of their own liberal base why they hadn't broken those barriers years ago. Let's not forget that when the Democratic Party finally nominated an African-American for president, it did so only after a long and bruising primary campaign. It was a contest tainted by vicious race-mongering on the part of some supporters of Hillary Clinton.

The tea party likes Rubio -- in fact, the Tea Party Express just announced he was its preferred nominee by 66% of the vote. Selecting him or Rice would mean more excitement.

For months, I've heard Republican voters talk excitedly about having Rubio on the ticket; when polls have been taken asking likely Republican voters whom they would most like to see as Romney's running mate, Rubio's name has consistently appeared at the top.

And when Rice's name surfaced as being in contention, it sent a jolt through the GOP electorate as many conservative voters began to relish the idea of a vice presidential debate where Professor Rice could take Joe Biden to school.

No matter who Romney selects as his running mate, Republican voters are likely to close ranks and accept the pick. But they might not be enthusiastic about it. Everyone appreciates an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. But it's hard to get too worked up about two scoops of vanilla.

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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

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