It would be a giant mistake to assume that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was the only winner during the vice presidential season.
He might have gotten the job of presumptive GOP Mitt Romney’s running mate, but a host of other prospects scored big during their auditions and can use the experience as a springboard for future ambitions.
Now that the final exams are in, here’s your running mate audition scorecard:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — B
Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is a boring white guy next to Chris Christie.
The New Jersey governor is just that charismatic, and nothing about the audition process took an exclamation mark from his personality. Having said that, there were a few question marks. For one, a New York Times report suggested that Romney viewed him as volatile — as well as occasionally tardy — and the label dogged Christie throughout the season. It was furthered by a Jersey Shore altercation (captured by gossip website TMZ!) that seemed to confirm questions about presidential readiness.
Nevertheless, he was an active and enormously effective surrogate for Romney, and even scored the keynote address at this month’s Republican National Convention.
As for his future, Christie is facing a tough decision. He faces reelection next year, and while his popularity is so imposing that Democrats are having trouble wooing opponents, he might choose to decline a run to focus on national pursuits that don’t include four more years of sparring with pesky unions.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — B-
At first, he seems the big loser. In both 2008 and 2012, he made The Shortlist, only to get The Big Toss — even after being as reliable and diligent a surrogate as either 2008 nominee John McCain or Romney could have ever wanted.
On that score, Pawlenty loses.
But that ignores the fact that Pawlenty climbed a long way back after reaching a political nadir during his loss at the 2011 Iowa straw poll and subsequent withdrawal from the presidential race. Six months ago, no one thought Pawlenty would even enter the vice-presidential conversation, but “T-Paw” clawed his way up the list through hard work, relentless surrogacy and a casual charm on the stump that eluded him during his own presidential run.
Democratic Sen. Al Franken (Minn.) is up for reelection in 2014, and some think Pawlenty will challenge him. If he does, Pawlenty can thank a strong vice-presidential audition process for restoring some of his electoral credibility.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — F
Bush spent the last year spurning any vice-presidential chatter and sporadically defying the base he’d need to galvanize in a future presidential run.
The former Florida governor also criticized Romney’s “tone” on immigration, told ABC News that he’d willingly accept “revenue enhancement” if it included severe spending cuts, questioned whether today’s GOP was too extreme to nominate Ronald Reagan and opposed Arizona’s tough immigration law.
Further, instead of diving into campaigning for Romney (like the other prospects), he stayed back, pushed Rubio as a running mate and assumed the role of an elder of the party who’s not entirely pleased with the way his child has turned out.
Bush optimists will point to an October keynote address in Iowa as proof of presidential intentions, but if he wants to really woo Iowans, he’s got work to do. He came in sixth in the state in a July survey of a hypothetical 2016 race — anemic numbers for someone with such high name recognition.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman — B+
He might have come up short in the final analysis, but Portman impressed everyone with his fundraising muscle, quiet charm, expansive political network and imitation of a chicken (he literally clucked during an interview on CNBC).
For Portman, people will be watching what’s next. His Senate seat is up in 2016 — the same year of the next presidential election. He could also end up in a Cabinet post in a Romney White House.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — A
Jindal hit up battleground after battleground for Romney, and even ceremonially opened one of the presumptive GOP nominee’s Florida field offices. Conservatives grew to love his impressive gubernatorial record and relentless intellect. During the hottest month of the running-mate speculation, The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis wrote that “Jindal is the safest pick that is exciting, and the most exciting pick that is safe," and many conservatives agreed.
Jindal’s future likely includes a presidential run, and to show how primed and prepped he is for the national debate, one need only note that he was also considered a top prospect for the vice-presidential nomination in 2008 — only six months after assuming the gubernatorial office.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — A
He released a memoir and went on a book-signing tour that took him to the battleground states of Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and two of the first states in the GOP primary — South Carolina and Florida. Thousands showed up for some of the events.
He also stumped extensively for Romney, earned political chits in spades, dealt effectively with the glare of national vice-presidential speculation and was tapped this week to formally introduce Romney at the GOP convention.
The primary knock on Rubio throughout the audition process was that he wasn’t experienced enough, but as he himself said on Fox News, “I get older every day.” When 2016 rolls around, he’ll be almost 1,500 days older.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — C+
As the running-mate process progressed, his stock fell somewhat, but his enthusiasm for Romney and the GOP cause never flagged. He readily accepted the chairmanship of the GOP convention platform committee in July, and even after that gig implied he wouldn’t get picked, he still campaigned for Romney as though he might be.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t all peaches and cream for McDonnell. He frequently showed up as the third “boring white guy” (along with Portman and Pawlenty) on vice-presidential lists. That’s not the kind of national introduction McDonnell wants, and could be a death knell for larger political ambitions in an increasingly diverse nation. His one and only gubernatorial term runs out in 2013 (Virginia doesn’t allow consecutive terms in office) and without a clear opening for a Senate seat, he’s expected to at least explore the idea of a presidential run.
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte — A
Many think it would have been a Romney-Ayotte ticket if the New Hampshire senator weren’t so new to the job. Elected to the Senate in 2010, Ayotte showed smarts during the running-mate process, sported a supremely competent resume, got along swimmingly with Romney and proved deft at balancing her conservative ideology with a moderate demeanor.
Already a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Ayotte proved a fluent and tough GOP spokeswoman in the battle over defense cuts under budget sequestration — all while the “raging speculative fire” (as the Boston Herald called it) burned around her.
Look for the GOP to continue rolling her out as a key new cog in the party’s image. If Ayotte grabs the chance, she’ll get serious consideration as a future presidential prospect.