Mitt Romney's Running Mate: Meet the Candidates

Given the ramifications of Election 2012 on the markets and the economy, it's time to evaluate the potential candidates to become Mitt Romney's running mate.

As we approach the summer political conventions, curiosity is escalating over who will join Mitt Romney in seeking the White House. But the most obvious names and faces aren't necessarily the most likely choices.

Five favorites for Romney's running mate have emerged, but few of them deliver what Republicans ideally want in a vice president.

Here's a look at the current favorites, the dark horse candidates, and the candidates most likely to turn down the job despite their impressive resumes.

Mitt Romney's Running Mate in Election 2012: The Current Favorites

1. Ohio Senator Rob Portman

Voters outside of Ohio don't really know this junior senator from this quintessential swing state. But, just in case you didn't know, Ohio and its 18 electoral votes will surely be up for grabs this fall. And that has Republicans buzzing about Portman and his electability.

Portman provides popularity in the Midwestern trenches, where it will certainly be a dogfight up until Nov. 6. As an Ohio Congressman, Portman consistently won his southern Ohio House district with at least 70% of the vote. In his 2010 senate campaign, he won 57% of the vote and carried a staggering 82 of his state's 88 counties.

Portman also has received commendation for executive experience and time in Washington on his resume, having served George W. Bush as budget director.

Still, this executive experience could be his biggest weakness. Portman presided over then-record deficits during the Bush years, which doesn't mesh well with the GOP message of reducing government spending. Nonetheless, Portman provides political cover and popularity in a crucial swing state.

The only glaring downside for the Republicans would be that his departure from the Senate could lead to the party losing a critical spot come 2016 when Portman's seat is up for reelection.

Overall: Medium Risk, Medium Reward.

2. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty

No person regrets dropping out the Republican primaries more than Tim Pawlenty.

The former Minnesota governor lost in the opening rounds and promptly walked away. That was a mistake given the Republican concerns about Romney's centrist tendencies and an "anyone-but-Romney" war cry from base conservatives.

Think about it: In just a few short months, we saw the rapid rise and fall of hopefuls Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum. Each in turn surged in the polls and was declared the favorite before fading out of contention.

If Pawlenty hadn't dropped out, he might have been seen as a sensible alternative to Romney (although moderate Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, never had a real chance). If Pawlenty had stayed in, there remained a chance the nomination battle could have gone all the way up to the convention.

Now there is chatter about him becoming the VP candidate. The former Minnesota governor comes with little baggage, but is a Republican who has won in a "purple," or swing, state. He's relatively unassuming, and has growing name recognition.

Still, Pawlenty never had great approval ratings in Minnesota. In May 2011, months after the Republican victories in the mid-term elections, 52% of Minnesota residents said they had an unfavorable opinion of him.

Overall: Low Risk, Low Reward

3. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

In 2009, Bobby Jindal was not ready for his national debut when he offered the GOP retort to President Obama's State of the Union speech. Needless to say, the speech bombed, and Jindal hasn't come out of hiding from the national spotlight since.

And that's been a good thing for the people of Louisiana. As Jindal refocused on the state and local levels, his state has thrived. Jindal's record of accomplishment as Louisiana governor has been applauded by Beltway insiders. He is an ardent opponent of the healthcare act ("Obamacare"), and has been in attack mode on behalf of Romney for months. Best of all, his speaking skills have improved greatly in recent years (the reason he is stumping in other states for Romney).

Overall: Low Risk, Medium Reward

4. Florida Senator Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio has a knack for public speaking, strong economic conservative visions, and ties the Republican Party into the fast-growing Hispanic voting population. He is a speaker who can rally the base and Independents over fiscal issues.

The one-term Senator from Florida has been a party leader on economic issues such as deficit reduction and social issues like immigration reform. He maintains an approval rating in a crucial swing state (Florida) above 50%. And his ethnic background will help the ticket in key swing states like Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico.

But Rubio comes with some red flags.

First, Rubio has only served two years as Senator. Should he accept the nomination, he would have less experience than President Obama did when he decided to run.

In addition, the senator has close ties to Washington insiders, which doesn't provide much cover or message about change from "business as usual." According to the First Street Research Group report, Rubio has received a lot of money from lobbyists. In 2011, 108 donated to the senator. That is the most of any candidate, and beats Paul Ryan out by 10%.

Overall: High Risk, High Reward.

Mitt Romney's Running Mate: The Dark Horse Candidates

The four candidates listed as the favorites offer strong personalities and help Mitt Romney in key swing states and demographics. However, they have one thing in common that can hurt their chances: They're not very well known.

That's not necessarily a bad thing.

The Republican Party hasn't had a prominent, well known vice presidential nominee since Jack Kemp in 1996 and George H. W. Bush in 1980. Surprise candidates with conservative credentials include Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin.

Sorting through the dark horse candidates, who have even less name recognition, a few names stick out.

1. Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

If you're looking for the most unknown possibility with perhaps the strongest resume, look no further than the Republican representative from eastern Washington State. The four-term Congresswoman serves as the Vice Chairman of the Republican Conference, has been an ardent fighter on important fiscal issues such as the bailouts, earmark reform, and the Affordable Healthcare Act. She also could help make some headway with a West Coast presence (something that hasn't happened on either side since Ronald Reagan). Her low-profile, two-decade career as a politician, and strong stance on critical fiscal issues makes her an intriguing possibility.

Overall: High Risk, High Reward

2. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

The Governor of Michigan has quietly gained some attention and momentum. Snyder has a few things going for him, including a strong background in both the private and public sector. The former Chairman of Gateway Inc. was a successful venture capitalist for many years. Though venture capitalism has been a negative talking point against the Romney campaign, it hasn't gained significant traction against the nominee, especially given the public equity failures in a number of green energy ventures sponsored by the current Department of Energy.

Overall: Medium Risk, Low Reward

3. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell

Governor Bob McDonnell is one of the more intriguing and better-suited candidates, given the mold of previous successful vice presidents. He has spoken at the national level on several occasions, and provided the GOP response to the President's State of the Union address in early 2010.

But McDonnell's biggest strengths are not necessary tangible. Many believe the role of a VP on the campaign trail is to complement the presidential nominee, fill the gaps in his experience, contrast the opposing ticket's ideology and platforms, and, above all else, be perceived by the public as a credible candidate to become the president. McDonnell may very well fit this mold better than anyone else.

McDonnell is a very popular governor in a critical East Coast swing state. The state has experienced strong job growth in the last two years (though it has benefitted from Maryland's tax exodus). McDonnell offers Romney ammunition on job growth from the private sector, has military experience, and won't overshadow the presidential nominee on the campaign trail.

While he may not contribute on foreign policy (Romney's key weakness) and has caused some stir on certain social issues, McDonnell offers a low-risk, high-reward prospect.

Overall: Medium Risk (social issues), High Reward

4. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte

The Granite State Senator was one of the earliest endorsers of Romney, backing his bid in November 2011. Ayotte doesn't have the name recognition of other potential candidates, but she provides a strong conservative presence given Romney's moderate tendencies.

Ayotte is a former state attorney general who has argued before the Supreme Court. But this ticket is too regionally condensed. In addition to concerns about inexperience, she is moderate, and this tandem would mean two northeastern Republicans joining the same ticket.

Overall: High Risk, Medium Reward

Mitt Romney's Running Mate: The Contenders Likely to Decline

Some candidates simply have refused the position or appear to have other political intentions over the next few years.

1. Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan has been one of the more divisive names in politics in congressional memory. He is adored by the right, vilified by the left, and remains a bit of an amorphous figure to independents. He is a prolific speaker and would give Vice President Joe Biden fits on fiscal matters during a debate.

Nonetheless, this isn't likely to happen.

It has been widely known on Capitol Hill that Ryan fancies the prestigious chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, even though four Republicans already outrank him on the committee.

Ryan may well be the face of fiscal conservatism for the next 20 years, and will likely avoid expending his political capital at the age of 42. His budgetary views have been poisonous with low-information voters who tend to decide elections. Democrats would continue to hammer his budget proposals, even though they haven't offered any rational plans of their own.

Remember, most voters aren't as informed, and though Ryan may be one of the most well-known Republicans in the country, the sliver of voters who will decide Election 2012 likely don't even know what state he is from. That's just the reality of politics.

Overall: High Risk, High Reward.

2. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was an early presidential favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination. For months, a number of prominent Republicans begged Daniels to enter the race. Now that Romney has locked up the nomination, insiders want Daniels to come out and run as a sensible vice presidential candidate.

Daniels is a remarkably pragmatic, yet moderate Republican. Extremely popular in Indiana, he provides strong name recognition and popularity in a state that President Obama won in 2008 and in the Midwestern states during the primaries.

But, the reality is that Daniels is only interested in one presidential office: The Office of the President of Purdue University. Daniels has already committed to the school to become its 12th president in early 2013. His decision is not likely to change when he retires from public office in the coming months.

Overall: High Risk, High Reward

3. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Chris Christie is one of the odds-on favorites to become Romney's running mate, if not the favorite of a large portion of the GOP establishment and independents who lean toward Romney. Just so many political variables that go into his consideration make him the obvious choice. He's a deficit hawk, has gone head-to-head against union leaders in the state, and is one of the better public speakers who provide an honest appraisal of the world around him.

But every strength Christie has can quickly become a weakness in today's political world where the 24-hour media takes every chance to humble candidates.

Gov. Christie is all hammer and no-nail -- a political dynamo with the tenacity of politicians who once traveled by train long distances just to pick an argument. He can easily ignite the ire of the unions after their defeat in Wisconsin against the GOP.

His biggest strength - his blunt honesty -- is his largest liability. Perhaps one of the more refreshing yet polarizing characters in American politics, Christie has provided many sound bites that have rallied Republicans on "common sense measures."

But that quickly would become Romney's problem as more people paid attention to Christie as the second name on the ticket. The New Jersey governor has the potential to overshadow Romney, leading to a re-run of 2008.

In fact, Christie's messages are so targeted and direct, and he has such a capacity to win over crowds, that many people will wonder why the ticket isn't flipped. Indeed, many conservatives begged Christie to run for the top job during the primaries, but he repeatedly declined.

In the end, however, this ticket simply doesn't work. Romney and Christie are moderate Republicans, and the GOP would rather the VP slot appease a key voting demographic or secure a swing state. Christie doesn't quite fit into that political equation.

Yes, Romney needs Christie, but not on the ticket. Christie will remain a viable voice in support of Romney's nomination. Even if it doesn't work out this time around, Chris Christie will have established himself as the early favorite for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Overall: Medium Risk, High Reward

4. The Best of the Rest

A number of other possibilities have been mentioned, including Rep. Eric Cantor from Virginia, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno. Each has publicly denied rumors they are seeking the nomination. It is more likely that other dark horse candidates would rise before any of these would consider joining the GOP presidential ticket.

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