By Alexander Bolton - 04/20/12 10:00 AM EDT
The leading congressional contenders to be Mitt Romney’s running mate have significantly different legislative track records that accentuate their pros and cons.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) top the vice presidential shortlists of many handicappers.
Further down on those lists are Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).
Each of the vice presidential contenders has strengths that the Romney campaign could tout. And each has weaknesses that Democrats would sink their teeth into.
Sen. Rob Portman
Portman has made jobs, the economy and fiscal policy his top priorities, a portfolio that would fit well with Romney’s campaign platform.
Yet Portman has the broadest record of accomplishment, after nearly two decades in Washington.
Last year, he spearheaded the Senate GOP jobs plan, which attracted the support of all 47 Republican members in the upper chamber. He also played a central role in building bipartisan support to pass the Colombia, Panama and South Korea free trade agreements.
The federal deficit shrank while he was serving as Bush’s budget director, but his ties to the 43rd president are a net negative. Should Portman be picked, Democrats would seize on the senator’s close relationship with Bush.
While in the House, he teamed up with then-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) to pass a major overhaul of the IRS. He joined then-Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to pass retirement security legislation that increased the amount of money workers could put into tax-deferred retirement accounts.
Portman said trade legislation is “one of the few things we’ve done to move the economy forward” in the 112th Congress.
Sen. Marco Rubio
If he is selected, the press and political pundits will examine his legislative record in Congress, which is light. But having arrived to the Senate in 2011, picking Rubio would be consistent with Romney’s anti-Washington campaign.
Rubio points out that this Congress has been gridlocked.
“The question is, what has the Senate accomplished over the last 15 months? The answer would be not much,” Rubio said. “My biggest frustration is the lack of urgency [on Capitol Hill].”
Rubio is one of the Senate’s most dynamic speakers. He is the only Senate Republican of Hispanic heritage and plans to introduce legislation that could play prominently in the partisan battle over Hispanic votes this year. Independent political experts say Romney must boost his numbers among Hispanics if he is going to win in November.
Republicans consider Rubio one of their brightest rising stars. He quickly won the respect of Senate colleagues on foreign relations, a policy area that President Obama focused on when he served in the Senate. Rubio sits on the Foreign Relations, Small Business, Commerce and Intelligence committees.
Rubio does not have as strong a record on jobs, taxes and spending as some of other possible vice presidential candidates. His legislative record in Washington would not add much to Romney’s message on the economy.
Earlier this year, Rubio offered an amendment repealing a mandate requiring faith-based institutions to offer employees insurance coverage for contraception. Senate GOP leaders chose to advance a similar amendment sponsored by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), which Rubio co-sponsored.
He is crafting a Republican alternative to the Democrats’ DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants who came to the country at a young age. Rubio’s bill, which has not yet been introduced, would not grant a path to citizenship.
The freshman senator said that he compiled a productive record in the Florida statehouse. He chaired a committee that crafted a state constitutional amendment protecting property rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, where the court ruled that private property could be taken to boost economic development.
Rep. Paul Ryan
Ryan has gained the most national attention for his legislation, most specifically his budget plans. The blueprints he introduced last year and this year have staked out his party’s position on taxes, spending and entitlement programs.
Picking Ryan for the ticket would show to voters that Romney is committed to making a serious bipartisan attempt to reforming entitlement spending.
With a lifetime rating of 91.7 from the American Conservative Union, he would also give Romney a boost among conservatives.
Ryan’s downside is that he could give ammunition to Democratic attempts to paint Romney as a hardcore conservative. Democratic leaders say Ryan’s proposals would “end Medicare as we know it” even though he has modified his earlier blueprint for overhauling the program.
He achieved a notable policy breakthrough in December by publishing a white paper with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) offering a plan to reduce Medicare spending. Democrats fumed over Wyden’s cooperation, fearing it would help insulate Republicans from campaign attacks.
When he introduced “A Roadmap to America’s Future” in May of 2008, Democrats had a firm grip on Congress and few lawmakers were willing to take a bold stance on fiscal policy. Only eight lawmakers co-sponsored what was to become the foundation of the House Republican budget.
However, if tapped, Ryan would take some heat for approving the unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008.
Some liberals, meanwhile, are openly rooting for Romney to select Ryan.
Sens. John Thune and Kelly Ayotte
Thune and Ayotte are viewed as lower-tier possibilities to serve on the Republican ticket.
Thune, a former lobbyist and House member, became a national star after defeating former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) in 2004. He is the telegenic third-ranking member of the Senate GOP leadership and gave Romney an important endorsement before the Iowa caucus.
He has helped drive the Senate Republican message on gas prices, the 2010 healthcare reform law and Obama’s economic record.
Ayotte, like Rubio, has had little time to compile a legislative record in Congress. She has made defense issues her specialty, which would serve as a nice complement to Romney, who has relatively little national-security experience.