Search for vice president comes to Capitol Hill

Mitt Romney’s campaign has started to vet vice presidential candidates, and that search has extended to Capitol Hill.

As The Hill reported last week, the search, having officially begun, is prompting speculation that Romney might not wait until late in the summer to select a candidate. 

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Some Republicans believe that having a running mate in July and early August will help Romney in many ways, including with fundraising. Others say Romney should not rush to decide, and should announce his pick right before the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.

It will be revealing whatever he decides to do. If he picks a governor or former governor, the campaign will tout the anti-Washington nature of the Republican ticket, especially compared to a sitting president and vice president who are both former senators.

Yet there is a lot of clamoring for Romney to scoop from the congressional pool. There are at least a dozen lawmakers whose names have been mentioned, including long shots such as Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Allen West (R-Fla.) and Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

The next tier up includes Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

And then there are the front-runners, at least on Capitol Hill — Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). 

Rubio’s status as a leading contender appears to have been confirmed by his sudden shift from answering questions about the process of picking the veep to changing the subject as soon as it is mentioned. That was a clear signal he had been contacted by the Romney campaign.

Ryan and Portman also declined to chat about whether Romney’s camp had, or had not, reached out.

Thune told The Hill he hadn’t heard anything, at least not yet. He endorsed Romney right before the Iowa caucus, which Romney lost in a photo finish to ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

Picking Portman is seen in prospect as a safe but unexciting move. He is experienced, but that experience means he has been in Washington a long time; he served in the House and as President George W. Bush’s budget chief.

Picking Ryan would be risky but energizing. The conservative base would love it, but so would the Democrats’ liberal base. Ryan’s budget proposal is controversial, and picking the Wisconsin lawmaker would put the political world’s focus back on his blueprint.

Picking Rubio would be seen as a nod to Hispanic voters, a key demographic for both parties. He is not a Washington insider, but the knock on him is that he lacks experience. He could be seen as a neophyte and an odd choice when the previous neophyte pick is recalled not with unalloyed admiration. 

It is unclear whether Romney will select a running mate who is serving in Congress. But it is clear that veepstakes politics have arrived on Capitol Hill.