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 PortmanRob PortmanJohn Bolton PAC pours more cash into GOP campaigns Dem campaign arm: Poll numbers slipping for vulnerable Republicans GOP senator jokingly calls Sherrod Brown 'Mr. Vice President' MORE (R-Ohio) and Marco RubioMarco RubioGOP women push Trump on VP pick Senate confirms Obama's long-stalled ambassador to Mexico Sanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll MORE (R-Fla.), with Sens. John ThuneJohn ThuneGOP blasts Obama for slow economic growth Overnight Tech: Business data deals on FCC agenda Overnight Tech: Email privacy bill gets its day MORE (R-S.D.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteGOP women push Trump on VP pick John Bolton PAC pours more cash into GOP campaigns Dem campaign arm: Poll numbers slipping for vulnerable Republicans MORE (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 RyanPaul RyanOvernight Finance: House rejects financial adviser rule; Obama rebukes Sanders on big banks Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika GOP warms to Trump MORE (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 IsaksonJohnny IsaksonSenate approves new Veterans Affairs watchdog Overnight Regulation: Republicans move to block financial adviser rule Senate Republicans move to block financial adviser rule MORE (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 CornynJohn CornynSenate confirms Obama's long-stalled ambassador to Mexico Overnight Healthcare: Medicare fight looms on Capitol Hill Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika MORE (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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyOvernight Defense: House panel approves 0B defense bill Carter pledges probe of sex assault testimony Grassley: Carter emails contained 'sensitive' information MORE (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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderDemocrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico pressure builds; Big tariff vote Wednesday Senate votes to increase wind energy funding MORE (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 McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: House panel approves 0B defense bill McCain fundraiser faces felony drug charges in Arizona GOP senator blocks Obama Army nominee over Guantanamo MORE’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 BoozmanJohn BoozmanBringing US rice back to Cuba Senate passes energy reform bill Capitol Hill’s forest champions helped secure win for wood MORE (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 BidenJoe BidenBiden on cancer research: 'I’ve been on the other end of the need' The Hill's 12:30 Report Biden lands in Iraq for surprise visit MORE (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 BurrRichard BurrThe Trail 2016: The establishment comes around Intel leaders push controversial encryption draft Moulitsas: 2016 dim for GOP MORE (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 GrahamLindsey GrahamGOP warms to Trump Trump address gets mixed reaction from GOP Graham tears into Trump’s ‘pathetic’ foreign policy speech MORE (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 MoranJerry MoranOvernight Finance: McConnell fast-tracks IRS bills; WH pushes free college tuition The Trail 2016: New Trump same as the old GOP lawmaker passes on Kansas Senate primary challenge MORE (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 CorkerBob CorkerThe Trail 2016: The establishment comes around GOP warms to Trump Trump vows to expand map for GOP, win Michigan MORE (R-Tenn.) said of Romney. “That’s what he does, pick great talent."