WOLFEBORO, N.H. — Mitt Romney's wife has confirmed a tidbit about the vice presidential search process her husband largely has been keeping secret: He's considering choosing a woman.
"We've been looking at that, and I love that option as well," Ann Romney told CBS News in a joint interview with her husband that was broadcast Thursday. She added: "There's a lot of people that Mitt is considering right now."
The disclosure came as the Republican presidential candidate, vacationing with his family at their lakeside estate in Wolfeboro, faced mounting criticism from inside the party about the state of his campaign.
Officially, the campaign says Romney is doing what he's done for the past decade – enjoying family time during a weeklong holiday in New Hampshire. It's also a break from the campaign trail and a chance to relax before the pre-convention push. But unofficially, the bit of down time is a chance for the contemplative Romney to consider who to tap for the No. 2 slot, how the campaign is going and whether to adjust strategy in a contest that polls show is close.
Romney declined in the interview to describe the status of the vice presidential search, saying: "That's something I'm keeping close with my team." He also didn't respond to growing calls within Republican circles for him to shake up his staff after a series of missteps. Among them: his campaign's initial refusal to side with Republicans who agree with the Supreme Court that the penalty included in President Barack Obama's health care mandate amounts to a tax. Romney eventually agreed with that assessment and, in doing so, broke with a key spokesman.
All that has conservative opinion leaders, including media titan Rupert Murdoch, calling for Romney to shake up his top staff. GOP officials in key states also are increasingly calling on Romney to talk about issues beyond his key message – that the economy remains weak under Obama – and to be more specific about what he would do as president.
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, wrote Thursday that Romney's strategy "strikes me as a path to (narrow) defeat." The Wall Street Journal editorial page also criticized the campaign's "insular staff and strategy that are slowly squandering an historic opportunity."
"Mr. Obama is being hurt by an economic recovery that is weakening for the third time in three years. But Mr. Romney hasn't been able to take advantage, and if anything he is losing ground," the newspaper wrote, calling for "a larger economic narrative and vision than Mr. Romney has so far provided."
Ann Romney, for her part, took issue with the Obama team's strategy, telling her interviewer that Democrats will "do everything they can to destroy Mitt."
"Early on we heard what their strategy was. It was `kill Romney,'" she said, adding a message to Obama: "Not when I'm next to him you better not."
She also sketched out her own requirements for what she'd like to see in a running mate, saying the person should be "someone that obviously can do the job but will be able to carry through with some of the other responsibilities." She said the person should be someone who will have her husband's back and who he will enjoy being around and have "the same personality type." She added: "Competent, capable and willing to serve this country. I think there's lots of good people out there that fill that bill right now."
Inside Republican circles, speculation also is high about who Romney will choose, with his search well under way and his self-imposed deadline for picking someone "before the convention" looming large. It's the biggest decision he will make between now and when he accepts the GOP presidential nomination in late August.
Talk among GOP insiders has focused on men as likely top prospects, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
But no less than a half-dozen other names also have popped up, including New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte – who walked in a July Fourth parade with Romney on Wednesday – as well as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.
The only time Romney has said anything substantive about the running mate search was last month when he said his advisers were "thoroughly vetting" Rubio. Romney commented after news reports surfaced citing unnamed advisers who said the Florida senator was not being considered.
It's been four years since John McCain chose then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a rock-ribbed conservative who was little-known outside of her home state, to be the first female on a Republican presidential ticket as he sought a way to both fire up the GOP's core supporters while narrowing Obama's advantage among women.
It wasn't long before questions about Palin's readiness to be president – and criticism of an inadequate vetting process – became a major problem for McCain. Critics used the pick to pummel him on his decision-making.
This year, Romney has used that experience as a guide. He's said preparedness to be president is his No. 1 requirement for a vice presidential candidate. Unlike four years ago, Republican base voters are energized largely by a desire to beat Obama.
But polls show that Romney still badly trails Obama among women, and putting one on the ticket – or even just raising the possibility of a female running mate – could help carve into that support.
Romney and his wife huddled for at least 45 minutes Tuesday with campaign manager Matt Rhoades, senior adviser Beth Myers and top strategist Stuart Stevens on the deck that overlooks the lawn behind his home.
Further fueling the running-mate talk: Portman was headlining a fundraiser in Concord, N.H., this weekend; he also wrote an opinion piece published in an Ohio newspaper Thursday to counter Obama's campaign appearances in the state Thursday and Friday. Pawlenty and Jindal both were in Ohio for the same reason, to campaign for Romney near Obama's events.
Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.