With Mitt Romney poised for a number a victories in the coming weeks and the mathematical elimination of Rick Santorum just days away, we again take a look at the race for Vice President.
1. Rob Portman, U.S. Senator from Ohio
The junior senator from Ohio is a proven vote getter in perhaps the nation’s most important swing state. Democrats in Ohio have become energized in the state due to the unpopular reforms of Gov. John Kasich, and the more popular Portman may be needed to hold down the Ohio fort. Aside from the importance of his state, Sen. Portman is an incredibly accomplished man in his own right. Elected to seven consecutive terms in the U.S. House, Portman would go on to serve as both U.S. Trade Representative and OMB Director under President George W. Bush before becoming a senator. His extensive knowledge of policy and government and his popularity in his home state make the Ohio senator a solid, safe choice for the Romney campaign. Given Gov. Romney’s desires to choose someone prepared to be president over making a “big splash” selection, one would have to consider Portman at the top of the prepared-on-day-one list.
2. Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator from Florida
This choice seems to be the most obvious on paper. Sen. Rubio is uniquely both the darling of the Tea Party and a rising star in the GOP establishment. Groomed for years as the protégé of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Rubio became a Tea Party sensation in 2010 with his defeat of moderate Gov. Charlie Crist in both the GOP primary and general election. Rubio has gone on to meticulously manage his national image in much the same way Sen. Hillary Clinton did prior to launching her presidential bid. Rubio’s youth, Cuban heritage, popularity with the base, and home state are all seen as adding significantly to the GOP ticket’s potential. However, his lack of experience, similar to Sen. Barack Obama’s back in 2008, could be the liability that keeps him off the road to the Vice Presidency. Despite his public protestations to the VP job, the junior senator has been prepping for the job, funding research on himself, moving up the publishing of his memoirs, and tacking to the center on immigration.
3. Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey
The brash New Jersey governor has become one of Mitt Romney’s most trusted and powerful surrogates. In some cases, he seems to make a better case for Romney than Romney has himself. Christie’s attitude and tough talk have earned him rave reviews among both establishment republicans and conservatives. However, in many corners of the conservative movement, Christie is viewed as a moderate, and pairing him with Romney could turn off these voters. But a Romney-Christie ticket could potentially realign the map, putting into play states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey that have not gone to the GOP since 1988. Christie’s greatest strength, his tough talking personality, is also possibly his greatest weakness. Will his brashness wear well on the national level? Will his personality acclimate well the role of number two? Or will he overshadow the nominee and become a distraction? Time will tell if Christie’s positives prove too tempting to resist for the Romney campaign.
4. Paul Ryan, U.S. Representative from Wisconsin
The Wisconsin congressman has become a hero to the conservative intelligentsia and his reform proposals have become the center of much of the political debate in Washington. With the debt and entitlement crisis hanging over the election, Ryan’s plans will likely become a focus of the campaign at some point with or without him on the ticket. In that case it may be better to have the best spokesman for his ideas, Ryan himself, on the ticket alongside our nominee. Still, some worry that Ryan’s plans, however bold, are a sure political loser in 2012 and think his presence on the ticket could distract from the focus on jobs the GOP wants to campaign on. However, given both Gov. Romney’s and Rep. Ryan’s economic and budgetary expertise, their potential ticket could put the President on the defensive on the economy and the debt throughout the election. Many conservatives remember Ryan’s dressing down of Obamacare in front of the President himself and the Democrat leadership and believe such performances would only bolster a GOP ticket. With a longer resume than Sen. Rubio or Gov. Christie, Rep. Ryan could be the candidate that melds excitement with experience for the Romney campaign.
5. Bob McDonnell, Governor of Virginia
The Virginia governor is currently one of the most popular politicians in the country, hailing from one of the key general election states, and carrying with him a solid record on jobs and the economy. A strong social conservative with the ability to attract independent voters and Reagan Democrats, McDonnell has positioned himself strongly for the VP nomination. Along with his statewide experience in the legislature, the attorney general’s office, and now as governor, McDonnell also brings 21 years of military service, which would make him the only veteran on either ticket. The major roadblock to the governor’s potential selection would be the concern over his college thesis about women in the workplace. With the Democrat Party launching the dishonest “War on Women” campaign against the GOP, it could negatively impact Gov. McDonnell’s chances. But given his success in overcoming similar dishonest attacks during his gubernatorial run, McDonnell could still make a solid running mate.
6. Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana
The young Louisiana governor has been a rising star in the GOP for a few years now, despite his fumbled State of the Union response speech. Jindal, at just 40, has amassed an amazing resume of varying experience; governor, congressmen, state secretary of health and hospitals, and president of the Louisiana University System. He has reformed and revitalized one of the most corrupt states in the country and has impressed many in both the establishment and the conservative movement with his brilliant grasp of policy. And he has proven a capable leader in times of crisis, handling natural disasters in his state with all of the competence that his predecessors lacked during Hurricane Katrina. As the nation’s first Indian American governor, Jindal would also bring diversity to a republican party in great need of appealing beyond it’s white, southern base. An early supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, it has yet to be seen if Romney world is willing to look outside of their more loyal supporters for a running mate. If they do, Jindal would have to be at the top of the list.
7. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, U.S. Representative from Washington
Emerging as maybe the biggest potential dark horse candidate, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has built significant clout behind the scenes on Capitol Hill. As vice chairman of the Republican Conference, Rep. McMorris Rodgers is the highest-ranking Republican woman in Washington D.C. The 2008 campaign showed that a Republican woman could add a boost to the ticket. Gov. Sarah Palin’s early surge began to lag when it was discovered she lacked gravitas and policy knowledge, qualities Rep. McMorris Rodgers has in large supply. McMorris Rodgers earned a BA in Pre-law from Pensacola Christian College and earned her Executive MBA from the University of Washington. With the GOP under assault over contraception and middle-class economic issues, having a woman who grew up on an Oregon farm, with an advanced degree in business, and is one of only 8 women to ever give birth while in office couldn’t hurt. Married to retired Naval Commander Brian Rodgers, Rep. McMorris Rodgers brings a unique blend of life experiences and governing experiences that could add a lot to a national ticket.
8. Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida
The former governor of Florida was the candidate many in the conservative establishment wanted at the top of the ticket in 2012. His strong record as governor, his appeal to Hispanic voters, his passionate dedication to education reform, and his heavyweight political stature made him a top potential challenger to Barack Obama. Despite not having run himself, these same strengths apply to his potential as a running mate. Bush remains very popular in his home state of Florida, and his name on the ticket would all but guarantee Florida easily returning to the GOP in the fall. His presence would also bring bundlers and activists who have been on the sidelines so far into the game, helping form perhaps the greatest GOP political machine in history. The drawbacks for Jeb are obvious, specifically his last name and his connection to the 43rd and 41st presidents. There is also the potential of turning off Tea Party voters with not one but two political scions on the ticket. Still, Jeb Bush is a serious political talent, a brilliant policy wonk who would distinguish himself from his brother and, in my opinion, would add more to the ticket than he would subtract.
9. Pat Toomey, U. S. Senator from Pennsylvania
Like Sen. Portman, Sen. Pat Toomey is beginning to get more buzz due to the Romney campaign’s desire to choose experience over flash. Sen. Toomey’s mix of business experience and government service mirrors and reinforces Romney’s own background. A former head of the Club for Growth, the senator and former congressman has a solid grasp of economic issues that will come to dominate the election and has nearly unmatched fiscal conservative credentials. With Toomey hailing from Pennsylvania, a state that President Obama continues to poll poorly in, his geographic appeal could also boost a Romney ticket. Still, some have reservations about pairing the senator’s banking career with the private equity background of the governor, worrying that it would play into the Democrat class warfare campaign.
10. John Thune, U. S. Senator from South Dakota
Sen. Thune, the GOP’s 3rd ranking member in the Senate leadership, is the favorite of a lot of establishment conservatives as a solid, safe, do-no-harm candidate. Thune checks all of the conventional boxes for a republican contender on social, economic, and military issues. Though largely undistinguished in the senate on policy grounds, Thune would bring experience to the ticket, helping connect the messaging of the Washington GOP to the Romney campaign. However, Thune hails from a safe GOP state and lacks the other regional advantages some of his establishment rivals bring to the ticket.
Honorable Mention: Susana Martinez, Jim DeMint, Mitch Daniels