Mitt Romney decamped to New Hampshire this weekend at the perfect time to mull his vice presidential selection. All signs point to Romney naming his pick sooner rather than later. This may be the last Vice Presidential Power Rankings we do this year -- so we'll make it count.
Remember our theory of relative list-building. There are three kinds of vice presidential contenders: those on the short list, the real candidates likely at the top of the heap; the long short list, the candidates who could play their way into contention but are probably just on the list to satisfy constituency groups; and the long list, the contenders who are plausible but who won't be picked.
The buzz we're picking up indicates the real short list is about three names long -- former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The longer short list includes Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. And the long list includes just about everyone else you've heard bandied about. The question is whether one of those longer short-listers can actually play his or her way into the game.
In our monthly rankings, we consider our cumulative reporting, analysis, and, of course, our own gut feelings. The most likely Romney suitor holds the coveted No. 1 spot. But virtually anyone on the list is a reasonable contender; if recent history is any guide, a surprise could be in the works. Just think of Geraldine Ferraro, Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, Joe Lieberman, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin -- all of whom weren't on anyone's short list just months before they were picked.
|Ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (previous ranking: 2)
The former presidential candidate is the rare contender who didn't burn bridges with the front-runner, even after his "Obamney Care" zinger. We hear he's climbing up the list, especially given his personal relationship with Romney. He fits most bills -- boring white guy who won't overshadow the top of the ticket, enthusiastic surrogate, capable of leading, and a decent debater who could match wits with Joe Biden. His lack of foreign-policy credentials is his only drawback.
|Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (previous ranking: 1)
Portman let slip recently that he's held serious meetings with the Romney team (Six hours in one day is pretty serious). He's an active and capable surrogate, and his executive experience surely fits the bill -- nothing prepares one for the highest office in the land like leading the Office of Management and Budget. But Portman's time in the George W. Bush administration is also his biggest liability; expect Democrats to ramp up their charges that Romney's policies would be Bush 2.0 if he's the pick. Still, Portman falling a place in our rankings is more a reflection of Pawlenty's buzz than of anything else.
|Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (previous ranking: 3)
Ryan is being vetted, senior Republicans tell us. And if anyone's surrogate work has helped, it's Ryan's; he's established a personal connection to Romney while on the stump. His biggest drawback -- the Ryan budget plan -- is a real concern to Republicans, given that Democrats have used it to attack down-ballot candidates, but it's not like Democrats will ease off their Medicare and Social Security claims if Ryan's not the choice. We still think his stock is undervalued.
|Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (previous ranking: 4)
Here's where the short list ends and the longer list begins. Jindal is one of his party's big thinkers, and an underrated policy mind. But he's not personally close to Romney (as evidenced by his initial endorsement of Rick Perry), and he doesn't bring anything in the way of electoral benefits. There's no question Jindal would be an expert debater, and he would excite the conservative base. But buzz around the Louisiana governor has definitely cooled.
|Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (previous ranking: 5)
Rubio's bus trip-slash-book tour is generating the kind of local attention the Romney campaign should heed. Still, most Republican insiders see Rubio as a risk, given his largely unknown record in Tallahassee (Preemptive rebuttal to the Florida press corps: We mean your colleagues in D.C. and the other 49 states, you guys did a fine job). Rubio is solidly on the longer short list, but he's toward the bottom.
|Condoleezza Rice (previous rank: NR)
Despite last week's Drudge Report siren, Rice probably isn't a serious contender for the veep slot. She's been vocal in her disinterest, has little domestic policy experience and could remind voters too much of the mis-handled war in Iraq. And social conservatives have problems with her stance on abortion rights. Romney's campaign is hyper-aware of any potential problems with the base, and picking Rice could threaten the delicate balance they've struck.
Well, not just anyone. But Rice appears to be the last name on the longer short list. The long list is full of contenders who bring their own strengths, but around whom insider buzz just hasn't grown. That list includes Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and, as a much-longer shot, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Start filling out your resumes for 2016 or 2020, folks.
Living On The Long List:
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño .
Portman: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Ryan: Freddie Lee/AP
Rubio: Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
Rice: Alex Brandon/AP