As the Republican convention draws near, speculation is mounting as to whom presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney will select as his running mate. Four men are viewed as topping the short list, each with distinctive strengths and weaknesses. A breakdown:
Pros: The House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin has emerged as the favorite of the conservative establishment, winning the votes of The Wall Street Journal editorial board, The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes and William Kristol, and National Review’s Rich Lowry. Their support will be important in helping Romney rally the conservative base. Ryan, 42, is a hero of conservative intellectuals for “the Ryan budget” -- his blueprint for cutting spending, taxes, and entitlements. The budget he wrote is the de facto policy platform of the Republican Party, and Romney has embraced most of it.
Cons: The budget that has made Ryan a star has also made him a top target for Democrats and proven in some cases to be a potent weapon. His presence on the ticket would make it a lot easier for them to highlight the spending and benefit cuts he would impose. Also, Ryan has never run outside of his congressional district. An analysis by The New York Times’ Nate Silver shows that Ryan would likely increase Romney’s share of the popular vote in Wisconsin by only 0.7 percent, and improve his chances of winning the Electoral College by only 0.1 percent.
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Pros: Pawlenty, 51, the former governor of Minnesota, is a veteran of national politics. He ran briefly for president last year and was vetted as a potential running mate for John McCain in 2008 before losing out to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. There would be no October surprise from him. Most helpful for Romney would be Pawlenty’s ease at connecting with blue-collar voters. He was the son of a truck driver in a meat-packing town and was the first in his family to go to college. His hardscrabble upbringing could help offset Romney’s problems coming across as a man of the people.
Cons: Pawlenty’s presidential bid was largely a flop, a warning sign that voters may not embrace him. He has long battled the idea that he's too “vanilla,” or boring, and choosing him would put two white males at the top of the Republican ticket. Plus, Silver’s analysis showed Pawlenty would actually have a negative effect on Romney’s chances of winning the Electoral College.
Pros: Portman, 56, is a senator from the key swing state of Ohio and the prospect with the most wide-ranging high-level experience. With 12 years in the House, two in the Senate, and stints as director of the Office of Management and Budget and U.S. Trade Representative, he has held diverse positions in two branches of government. That includes some international experience, a Romney gap. Portman's congressional resume also could be a boon for Romney, who has almost no ties to the House or Senate but will need to work with them. The Silver analysis showed that Portman, who is not that well-known in Ohio, would only add to Romney’s popular vote there by about 1.1 percent. But -- significantly -- the race in Ohio is close enough that the boost would make Romney 1.9 percent more likely to win the Electoral College.
Cons: Portman’s executive experience is also a potential weakness. He served under George W. Bush, so Democrats and mistrustful Republicans alike would be able to tie him to runaway deficit spending and other unpopular policies of the last administration. And like Pawlenty, Portman has faced charges of being bland -- though further investigation reveals a mischievous side.
Pros: Jindal, 41, the governor of Louisiana, would bring double diversity to the ticket as an Indian-American and as a southerner. He’d also bring unmatched health expertise. Jindal was named secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at 24 and later served as an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration. A staunch abortion opponent, Jindal is a favorite of conservatives.
Cons: Jindal’s most memorable moment in the national spotlight -- his 2009 response to the State of the Union—was widely panned as a failure. He has improved as a messenger but still has less national experience than other candidates Romney could choose. He would not add to Romney’s chances of winning the Electoral College since his state is reliably Republican in presidential elections.