Vetting the veeps: Get to know four top contenders

Updated
By The Cycle Staff
Vetting the veeps: Get to know four top contenders
Vetting the veeps: Get to know four top contenders
Cheryl Senter / AP

By Amanda Sakuma and Traci G. Lee

For weeks the Mitt Romney presidential campaign has dangled the shiny object of announcing its vice presidential pick before the media, strategists, and voters, but it looks like the wait and speculation might soon be over. With the field narrowed down to two bland nominees, a controversial conservative, and a mild wild card, Romney faces a potential “double scoop of vanilla” problem with an extra side of boring in his running mate. But you know how the saying goes—better safe than Sarah Palin.

Here we examine the pros and cons of four possible running mates for Romney: Sen. Rob Portman, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Paul Ryan, and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Other potential wild cards selections (whom the media have largely tossed aside at this stage) include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who could help to harness the Latino vote. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell were also reportedly in the mix.

Rob Portman

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has served in both chambers of Congress, and in the over a decade that Portman spent in the House, he never raked in less than 70% of the vote in his races. Portman later showed off his political chops while serving in two cabinet-level positions under George W. Bush’s second administration as U.S. Trade Representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget.

 

What’s going for him:

  • Insider baseball along the Beltway: Portman is the “insider,” according to NBC News’ First Read. He’s the man with experience in the weeds of two branches of U.S. government who will be ready to go from Day 1. His ties to the White House date back to George H.W. Bush’s administration, and his time as both a member of the House and now junior senator brings a certifiable political wonk to the mix.
  • A competent complement to Romney’s style: Although he’s slightly under the radar, it’s unlikely that Portman will pull a Sarah Palin and shake the Republican Party’s confidence. Unless you count the time he did a chicken impression while on live television (which we totally do).
  • Hails from Ohio: President Obama was able to carry Ohio in his 2008 election sweep, but Portman could potentially tip the scales in Romney’s favor as the state swings between choosing between political parties. According to NBC News’ Chuck Todd, Portman is a popular lawmaker who may be the only vice presidential candidate able to make a substantive electoral influence.

Possible train wreck items:

  • Ties to President ‘You-Know-Who’: While serving as the U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush, Portman pushed for a deal that would not impose restrictions on cheap Chinese steel imports. The deal leaves room for discussion that would link Portman to Bush’s economic policies while also sparking more outsource, in-source, American-made chatter.
  • Budget buster: Portman’s tenure as Bush’s budget director came at a time when federal spending soared, making him an easy target for attacks over the federal deficit and spending. His Democratic opponent in Ohio’s 2010 U.S. Senate race lobbed heavy criticism of Portman’s fiscal record, for which we will likely see more of if he makes the ticket.
  • Has not downloaded Romney’s VP app: Either Portman is supremely confident that he’ll be on the receiving end of the Romney campaign’s job offer, or he doesn’t have a stake in the outcome of the veepstakes. “I haven’t actually gotten the app myself. I have an iPad all full of apps, half of which I never get time to use anyway. But we’ll see,” Portman said. “I assume I’ll hear it other ways.”
Vetting the veeps: Get to know four top contenders

Tim Pawlenty

Former two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim “T-Paw” Pawlenty auditioned for the GOP presidential nomination via a two-month campaigning stint, but hit the brakes last August after trailing Rep. Michele Bachmann in the Iowa Straw Poll. 

What’s going for him:

  • Minnesota battleground: Early on, Pawlenty made the shortlist of top VP picks for his conservative credentials and potential ability to help carry Minnesota, where Obama is currently losing his lead in the polls.
  • Blue collar appeal: While Vice President Biden can gaffe and charm his way through the Rust Belt, T-Paw brings his own flavor of blue collar appeal through his working class roots and evangelical faith.
  • Earned the badge of loyalty: The conservative National Review coined the caricature of Pawlenty as “Romney’s traveling salesman,” and thus far he has delivered his sales pitch largely gaffe-free. Pawlenty made a seamless pivot from rival to friend with a degree of personal loyalty that would likely mesh well with Romney’s campaign operation.

Possible train wreck items:

  • He’s the mastermind behind dubbing “Obamneycare”: Early on in the GOP primary when the pair were rivals, Pawlenty coined the phrase “Obamneycare,” linking Romney’s Massachusetts health care reform law with President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. ”Obamacare was patterned after Mitt’s plan in Massachusetts. And for Mitt or anyone else to say that there aren’t substantial similarities or they’re not essentially the same plan, it just isn’t credible,” Pawlenty said. “So that’s why I called it Obamneycare. And I think that’s a fair label, and I’m happy to call it that again tonight.”
  • Is it a cigarette tax hike or a user fee?: If chosen, T-Paw will have to try to outrun tax critics because of a “health impact fee” he backed as governor of Minnesota that charged an extra 75 cents on packs of cigarettes. “I believe this is a user fee. Some people are going to say it’s a tax. I’m going to say it’s a compromise to move Minnesota forward,” Pawlenty said in 2005.
  • Threatens to show ‘tats’ to prove he’s not boring: Is T-Paw too dull to compensate for Romney’s awkwardness? Nahhh. “If you goad me into it, I’ll show you my tats,” Pawlenty told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto

 

Vetting the veeps: Get to know four top contenders

Paul Ryan

Veepstakes tea leaf readers launched Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan into the mix this week as a potentially high-risk wildcard of nominees with a possibly big payout.

What’s going for him:

  • He’s a Young all-American-outdoorsy-P90X-loving-prom-king-fraternity-brother Gun: Ryan is one of the three founders of the House GOP’s Young Guns Program, which is dedicated to electing Republicans to open seats and as challenger candidates nationwide. Young Guns saw some big wins in 2008 when five House GOP challengers won against incumbent Democrats.
  • Go big or go home: RNC Chairman Reince Priebus expected Romney to make a “bold choice” on his running mate. So does that rule out boring ol’ Pawlenty and Portman…?
  • The House GOP budget is known as the ‘Ryan budget’: Sure, he wrote the thing, but that’s not the point. Ryan’s budget proposal, which included items that would convert Medicare into a voucher-like program and regulate federal spending, won huge support from House Republicans. It also received a lot of criticism from Democrats, which will help Romney in November if he plans to win on the “not Obama” platform the GOP is pushing.

Possible train wreck items:

  • Committed ‘fiscal conservative apostasy’: Ryan voted in favor of TARP and the auto bailout (see that point below), which won’t help if Romney wants to push his “severely conservative” agenda.
  • His own church isn’t too happy with him: Ryan’s latest budget plan received sharp criticism from Catholic leaders for failing to protect the poor, which is an important value to the church. Ryan made matters worse when he hit back at the church, accusing “some Catholics who for a long time have thought they had a monopoly of sorts.” With allies like these…
  • Voted for the auto bailout in 2008: This move rubbed right wingers the wrong way in the past, but hey, look on the bright side: If he’s on Romney’s ticket, at least the pair could really take ownership of saving the auto industry.
  • Wants to overhaul Medicare: While Romney and Ryan agree on this point, it could do more damage to Romney’s chances in the long run in terms of his support from older voters—a group that both John McCain and Bush won over in the last two elections.

 

Vetting the veeps: Get to know four top contenders

Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is the political wonk known in conservative circles for his tough (and sometimes controversial) stance on reform and budget cuts, and who for months has been riding the cusps of veep speculation.

What’s going for him:

  • Voters (kinda) know who he is already: Name recognition is a potential double-edged sword for Jindal (see train wreck bullets No. 1 and No. 3), but his reputation in the conservative community is generally seen as potential boost to Romney’s ratings.
  • History in the making: If nominated to share Romney’s White House run, Jindal would be the first Indian-American to make the national ticket and could help add some safe “game change” quality to the campaign.
  • Super surrogate: In just under three months, Jindal managed to go on 15 cross-country trips stumping for Romney. If there’s such a thing as paying one’s dues, well, Jindal is certainly making up ground from initially backing the wrong horse (Texas Gov. Rick Perry).

Possible train wreck items:

  • Suggested the other guy for veep: In a possible strategy of reverse psychology, Jindal previously endorsed Rep. Paul Ryan as Romney’s best choice for VP, saying the Wisconsin Congressman “brings a lot to the table.” “I think picking somebody like a Paul Ryan would send a very powerful message that this administration was serious about Medicare reform, entitlement reform, shrinking the size of government, and doing so in a courageous way,” Jindal said.
  • He would add a double dose of awkward to Romney’s campaign: When Jindal fumbled the GOP’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, he sealed his fate in being forevermore compared to one impossibly optimistic and painfully sheltered 30 Rock character Kenneth the Page.

 

Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney

Vetting the veeps: Get to know four top contenders

Updated