Mitt Romney's campaign reminds us of a corporation -- inherently risk-averse and unlikely to act without careful consideration. An adviser's recent comment that Romney's ideal running mate would be an "incredibly boring white guy" seemed to underscore that fundamental thought process.
(PICTURES: Possible VP Picks)
Now, as the presumptive nominee, the veepstakes vetting is getting underway in earnest. It's up to Romney's team to make a pick that doesn't harm the ticket, conveys gravitas, and steers clear of too much controversy. Given those factors, the short list is narrowing dramatically. With that in mind, we rank the potential Republican vice presidential candidates as Romney's team sees them today, given our reporting and analysis.
|Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (previous ranking: 4)
Portman is precisely what Romney is looking for in a running mate: smart, experienced, well-respected, baggage-free and prepared to govern. But perhaps Portman's greatest strength is that he doesn't possess any glaring weakness, making him a natural fit for Romney's ultra-cautious campaign. It's no wonder Portman has dominated the buzz in recent weeks. The senator from Ohio is a safe, solid pick who reinforces Romney's strengths and, as a bonus, could help him carry a critical battleground state.
|Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (previous ranking: 7)
Jindal is the rare candidate who satisfies both major schools of thought on a VP pick. The school that argues for an exciting, outside-the-box candidate wouldn't mind the nation's first Indian-American governor, and the school that argues for a serious policy wonk would be thrilled with one of the GOP's leading voices on issues like education reform. And despite the fact that he endorsed Rick Perry in the primaries, Jindal is serving as a top Romney surrogate, which tells us he's at least a little interested.
|Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (previous ranking: 2)
No candidate has been hurt more by the Republican Party's Sarah Palin experience than Rubio. It's not that he has anything to hide (heaven help you with the Florida press corps if you dare suggest as much), it's that the stories that got big play in Florida haven't made it to national papers in D.C. If you're a Hotline reader, you've heard about earmarks and the house he shared with Rep. David Rivera. Romney's campaign doesn't want to spend its first few days as a complete ticket explaining away Rubio's history in Tallahassee. He could bring all the excitement in the world, but it probably won't be enough to overcome the GOP's hesitancy.
|Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (previous ranking: 1)
Chemistry means something in Boston, where the same team has surrounded Romney since his 2002 gubernatorial bid. Romney and Ryan seemed to enjoy an instant rapport on the trail in Wisconsin, and if Romney is going to be tied to a controversial running mate, he'd much rather fight a battle over fiscal issues than social issues. Still, the inherent risk of picking Ryan seems to run counter to Romney’s brand of play-the-percentages pragmatism -- and we can't help but note that even Republicans like Sen. Dean Heller are now voting against Ryan's controversial budget.
|Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (previous rank: 8)
Of all the candidates who insist they're uninterested, we believe Pawlenty the most (save Susana Martinez, who put herself at odds with Romney's immigration stand this week). But a Romney campaign defined by its emphasis on loyalty will take a long look at Pawlenty, one of the few VP prospects who enjoys an authentic relationship with Romney. Plus, in an election that could be decided by Rustbelt battlegrounds, it couldn't hurt to have a guy capable of matching VP Biden's blue-collar appeal.
|The Wild Card (previous rank: 10)
Remember the history: Geraldine Ferraro, Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, Dick Cheney, and Palin -- presidential candidates don't mind going outside the conventional short list to find a running mate. We think someone not on this list is more likely to get the nod than the following four contenders, whether it's someone from the business world or someone with political experience.
|Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (previous rank: NR)
Daniels seemed to strike his name from these lists last month after offering an unenthusiastic endorsement of Romney, but a joint appearance in Indiana recently revealed what looked like a genuine, mutual admiration between the two men. Romney pointed to Indiana as a model for the nation, and it isn't lost on Republicans that Daniels is in many ways the ideal reenforcer of Romney's image: a serious, sober politician who prioritizes fiscal issues over social issues and won't become a distraction.
|New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (previous rank: 5)
Despite his persistent popularity in New Jersey and rock star status within the Republican Party, Christie doesn't appear to be a popular pick for Romney, for one simple reason: His big personality (and penchant for off-the-cuff commentary) would overshadow the ticket. He says it best himself: He's not a No. 2. There's an upside to that outspoken personality, though: If Romney wants an attack dog for his VP, there's no other top-tier candidate who could match Christie's pitbull blood.
|Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (previous rank: 3)
Rush Limbaugh may have effectively torpedoed any chance McDonnell had at the No. 2 spot when he reignited the "war on women" narrative -- an explosive distraction that McDonnell's résumé would bring front and center. Beyond that, the governor's own struggles with a Republican Legislature seemingly determined to tack hard right isn't helping matters. McDonnell is still popular in the key swing state of Virginia, but the drawbacks are mounting.
|New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (previous rank: 6)
Perhaps Romney's best option if he wants to bring gender balance to the ticket, Ayotte got buzz when she appeared alongside Romney during his first trip to New Hampshire as the presumptive nominee. But few insiders believe she'll make the short list.
On The Bubble : Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño.
Photos (top to bottom):
Portman: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Rubio: Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
Ryan: Freddie Lee/AP
Christie:William B. Plowman/AP
McDonnell: Steve Helber/AP
Ayotte: Charles Dharapak/AP