By Alexander Bolton - 05/29/12 09:00 AM EDT
Senators think a senator would make the best vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney, several of them told The Hill.
Their reasoning: senators’ ability to serve as president; the selection could help Romney in swing states; it would avoid a Sarah Palin-like situation; and having a senator on the ticket could help Republicans win back control of the upper chamber.
Some spoke on the record, some anonymously. And while all deferred to Romney and expressed confidence he’d make a wise choice, they also had plenty of advice.
Their top picks: Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), with Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also making the list.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell got a few mentions. So did Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. One name that didn’t get tossed out a lot: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Though Ryan is thought to be atop Romney's shortlist, senators were more likely to tout a fellow member of their conference or a governor.
Here’s a look at whom senators preferred and their arguments for what qualities are best in a running mate:
First, do no harm
“The No. 1 rule of picking a vice president is ‘Do no harm,’ ” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who named Portman, Rubio and McDonnell as strong candidates.
“Regional diversity is important,” he added, noting that Romney served as governor of Massachusetts. “But that shouldn’t disqualify someone if they’re a hard worker.”
Winning back the Senate
“Portman, Rubio and McDonnell — some people could help the Senate candidates,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Cornyn noted Portman won election in Ohio by 18 points in 2010 and could motivate Republicans to turn out for Romney and Senate candidate Josh Mandel in that important swing state.
He said Rubio could have a similar effect in Florida, an “important vote-rich state."
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who declined to reveal his personal favorite for the spot, said the most important criterion is that Romney pick someone who is seen as capable of serving as president.
And Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Romney should pick “someone who is capable to be president because after one week it boils down to the top of the ticket.”
It would also help avoid a Palin-like situation; the former Alaska governor revved up the conservative base during the 2008 presidential election but was ultimately seen as a drag on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) candidacy because her frequent gaffes raised doubts about her ability to take over as commander in chief.
“I don’t think it makes that much of a difference,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). “What you don’t want is a running mate who makes mistakes you can’t control.”
The senators also said Romney could add gravitas to the ticket by tapping an insider, much like President Obama did in 2008 by selecting Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I think you could make the case that it’s good having D.C. experience because Romney is on the ticket,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Romney’s pick could hinge on which states emerge as the most competitive over the summer.
“It might depend on how popular someone is in a swing state,” he said.
Naming specific names
“Portman checks all the boxes,” said one GOP senator who expressed preference for Portman but declined to do so publicly because other Senate colleagues are possible candidates.
Another GOP senator said Rubio “has a good argument to make” because “we have to broaden our inroads to Hispanics and Rubio can do that.”
They also believe both Portman and Rubio can help deliver swing states to Romney.
Another senator touted Portman, Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Bush as Romney’s strongest possible running mates.
Ryan also had some boosters, who think he would have good chemistry with Romney.
“Paul Ryan’s a rock star,” said a conservative Republican senator. “If I had to bet money, it would be on Ryan. He’s in the mold of Romney, a smart, aggressive achiever.”
But two other senators questioned whether Ryan could do as much to carry his home state for Romney as Portman could to win Ohio or Rubio to swing Florida.
“House members are well-known in their districts but less known across the state, so it’s not as helpful,” said one lawmaker.
Bush has several enthusiastic supporters in the Senate GOP conference. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said last week if he had to recommend a single running mate for Romney, “it would be Jeb.”
“Gov. Bush would be a great addition,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who also praised Portman, Rubio, Thune and Ayotte.
One lawmaker argued Gov. Martinez could boost Romney’s standing among women and Hispanics.
Daniels, who has significant Washington experience as former director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bush, was cited by two senators as a smart choice.
“I’m always in favor of Mitch Daniels for everything,” said Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.).
Moran said Thune, Ayotte, Rubio and Portman would each provide distinct benefits.
Ayotte could boost Romney’s ability to compete in New Hampshire, which President George W. Bush carried in 2000.
Thune, who was raised in a middle-class family, has a talent for articulating the party’s positions on economic issues in a way that “everyday Americans” can understand, Moran said. He believes Thune’s Midwestern background would resonate with voters in Ohio and other heartland battlegrounds.
He praised Rubio as someone who could attract Hispanic voters to Romney and said Portman, who served as U.S. trade representative and director of the White House budget office under George W. Bush, has “great experience from past administrations."
Several of the names mentioned have said they have no interest in the No. 2 spot.
Bush was quoted last month telling Newsmax, a conservative site, that he would consider the vice presidential nomination, but later backed away.
Thune told The Hill earlier this month he hadn’t been contacted by Romney’s vetting team.
Martinez told a New Mexico newspaper that family obligations would keep her from taking the job, saying, “I just couldn’t do it.”
Daniels issued the firmest denial, telling Fox News, “If I thought that call was coming, I would disconnect the phone.”
Meanwhile, Portman, Rubio and Ryan have all been coy when asked about the vetting process.
But, in the end, the choice is Romney’s, and lawmakers are confident it will be a good one.
“He has a lifetime in business, a lifetime in equity,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said of Romney. “That’s what he does, pick great talent."